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Part 1- June 2024

Noah is still adjusting to the city, still getting used to the frantic commute via subway and the detatched interactions with the security guard at the desk downstairs, the breezy chatter of the assistants and secretaries in the front.  He doesn’t warrant an assistant, and frankly he’d hate it if he did.  He’s been here three weeks, and he kind of wishes he’d never left LA.

It’s not because of the job, not at all.  He knows he’s lucky to have the chance to prove himself outside of the Hollywood bubble, and he likes the concept of New Directions Publishing.  He knows he’s good for the job, but he worries that New York might break him.  He let his hard edges go, years ago, the day he got in his truck and drove away from Ohio, and he’s not sure where to even find that Noah Puckerman even anymore.

His office is still half-unpacked, which seems to piss his boss off, so he’s been leaving the open boxes in the middle of his floor out of spite for the fact that he got thrown right into work almost the instant he stepped off the plane and it hasn’t let up since.  He picks his way around the boxes, drops his messenger bag on the floor next to his chair, and sets his mocha carefully next to what has to be something from his boss: three novels on top of the most recent Publisher’s Weekly folded to the Latest News column.  On top of the books is a sticky note: I don’t care what you have to do, you get this guy.  From what Noah can see of the article, it’s brief and the title is The Dalton Debacle.  He shoves the books aside and picks up the magazine to read the article. Dalton is New Directions’ main competition, at least where mainstream queer publishing is concerned, and any shake-up there could mean good things for New Directions, and Noah indirectly.

The news is less than two inches of column; Noah reads it before he even manages to sit down, which is good because he’s out his door, moving swiftly past the assistants and his boss’ secretary with the words still swimming in front of his eyes.

“Kurt Hummel is the biggest recluse since Salinger.  What the hell makes you think I can sign him?  And honestly, why would he even want to come here?  We’re a fucking upstart and he’s an award winning author.”

Will runs a palm over his immaculately gelled hair and shrugs affably.  “Good morning to you too, Noah.  I think Hummel would be a wonderful addition to our upcoming catalog.  He would bring us some credibility among other authors, and I like to think that he’s popular enough to draw readers to is, too.

Noah shakes his head.  “I dunno, man.  I think it’s a bad idea.”

“It’s not an option, Noah.  You’re the only editor here without a regular client.  I know you’re still getting your feet under you, but you’ve been here three weeks.  It’s time to put yourself out there and bring in something worthwhile.”  Will smiles at him.  “You’ll be fine.  Have you read his books?  I left them-”

“Yeah, I saw them.”

“Start there, then.  Read them, and you still don’t think I’m right after that, I’ll drop it.  But I am right.”  Will smiles that kind of weird smile he has again, and Noah knows that he’d been dismissed.

He sighs and goes back to his office, settles into his chair to read the article for a second time.

“Kurt Hummel’s third novel in his Infinity series, which receives a starred review in this issue (see page 67) has been described as Tales of the City for the Millennial generation.  Hummel writes beautifully of the LGBT community, and his books continue to defy stereotype as more than strictly genre fiction.  That has been due largely in part to his relationship with powerhouse Dalton Publishing, which has always marketed Hummel as a mainstream author.  But news broke late last week that Hummel’s long-time editor Blaine Anderson has left Dalton, and that leaves Hummel’s future with the firm in question.  Neither Anderson, Hummel, or Dalton Publishing could be reached for comment on the split at press time.”

Of course Noah has heard of Kurt Hummel.  Who hasn’t, really?  He was some kind of wunderkind, his first novel published when he was just 21 and it had been an unexpected hit, bridging the gap between coming of age and the awkwardness of early adulthood.  The second book followed the same characters as they navigated the waters of their twenties, and the newest promised to tackle the realities of turning 30.  Noah is tempted to read that one first, because staring down the pipe at that pivotal birthday is freaking him out maybe more than he wants to admit.  But he piles the books and the Pub Weekly into his messenger bag and leaves the office before anyone can notice him and heads to his favorite coffeeshop.  If he’s going to research, he has to start by actually reading the books.

**

Kurt’s thumbing through the new Publisher’s Weekly, nibbling around the edges of his cinnamon toast and trying not to turn right to the review of his new book.  He hears Blaine in the bathroom, singing absently while he shaves, and it’s like every morning they’ve shared together the past twelve years.  The window is open, Kurt is kind of happy, and then a little block story in the Latest News section catches his eye.

He sets his toast down carefully, pushes his coffee into the center of the table, and takes a breath.  Reads the blurb again.  And a third time, and a fourth, because it doesn’t make sense.

He may avoid the public eye, but he’s not blind, deaf or dumb, and he can’t make the pieces connect.

“Blaine?”  He calls out, his voice pitched to carry over the running water.  “Honey?”

“Yeah?”  Blaine pads out into the kitchen in khakis and bare feet and chest, a smudge of shaving cream under his left ear.

Kurt holds up the magazine.  “Anything you forgot to tell me?  Like the fact that you left Dalton?”

Blaine blushes hot, and hangs his head.  Shuffles his feet.  Looks... ashamed.

“I didn’t leave,” he says softly.

“Publisher’s Weekly says you did.  They call it a ‘split’.”

His next words are almost too quiet for Kurt to hear, and he asks what more out of habit and the fact that it takes his brain a moment to understand.

“I got fired.  Two weeks ago.”

Kurt’s heart is racing, because now he knows what he’s sort of half-suspected for months.  “I’m lots of things,” he says, his words shattered glass.  “But I am not a fucking child.  Why does everyone have a misplaced sense of wanting to protect me?”

“Because after-”

“Don’t.  Christ, Blaine, just don’t.  It was your fucking intern, wasn’t it?  Dickie?  Donnie?”

“Danny,” Blaine replies, and he shakes his head.  “I’m so sorry.  I never meant-”

“How did they find out?”  Because Kurt knows, something awful had to have happened for Blaine to have been fired.

As if sleeping with a 23 year old intern isn’t bad enough.

“Elevator,” Blaine manages to stutter out, and Kurt is already on his feet.

“Fuck you, Blaine.”  He grabs his keys and phone off the coffee table and shoves his feet into his sneakers by the door.  “I’m going out.  Please be gone when I get back.”

He can still feel the vibration from the slamming door reverberating up the hall when he reaches for his phone.  He dials Tina with trembling hands, because she’s always been the most honest of his friends.

“Hey, baby,” she coos into the phone, and Kurt can hear shouts and laughter way in the distance.  He makes it as far as the bottom of the second floor stairs, where he stops and sits. He should go out, he really should, but he can’t handle the noise and press of the city around him.  Not today.  He’s broken enough today.

“He fucked his fucking intern, T.”

“You told me months ago that you thought-”

“And he got himself fired for doing it in an elevator.”

Tina laughs.  “You always told me he had a really bad sense of appropriate sexual behavior, K.  I guess it just finally caught up with him?”

“It’s not funny,” Kurt hisses because his heart is breaking and he doesn’t know what to do.  Tina, though.  Tina always has all the answers.

“You should come down and stay with us,” she offers gently.  “Mike’s teaching these workshops, and we’ve got a house for the summer.  It’s nothing fancy,” he can hear thumping and rattling, and the squeak of a door, “but it’s on the water.  You could be invisible here.  You know how Mike is, and I’m ankle-deep in my thesis, so.”

“If it gets out, all anyone will be able to talk about is that I’d never have gotten my break if my boyfriend hadn’t been in the industry.  Thirteen years, and he fucked his intern.”

“Kurt.”  A sharp pause, a deep inhale.

“You’re smoking again.”

“Shut up and get your ass out here,” she all but orders him.  “If you’re here by the weekend, you’ll get to enjoy Pride.  You can drown your sorrows in hot boys.”

Kurt laughs, because Tina knows that he’s only ever been with Blaine, and ogling hot boy just because he can has never been his thing.  Even so, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.  There’s no book tour, no appearances, because there are never book tours or appearances.  Without Blaine at Dalton, Kurt doesn’t know what will even become of his contract or the tentative plans for his next book, loosely plotted and now pretty well useless, sitting on his laptop.

“Okay,” he huffs finally, “I’ll call you when I hit Massachusetts.”

“Good,” Tina says, and Kurt hears her take one last firm drag on her cigarette.  “Everything’ll work out, baby.  You always rise above.”

“I don’t know if I have it in me again,” he admits, feeling tired and shaky and very much like he just wants to hide away until he has the strength and energy to sift through the ashes and rebuild Kurt Hummel again.

I know,” Tina tells him with confidence.  Kurt shakes his head even though she can’t see him.  “Don’t shake your head at me,” she tells him, and he hears the squeak and rattle again.  “Go. Pack and figure out how to get down here, and leave that sorry bastard before you end up like Humpty Dumpty.”

“It’s too late,” Kurt tells her, and hangs up.  He climbs back up to the third floor, lets himself into the apartment.  Blaine is standing in the living room still half dressed, looking like he’s more lost than Kurt, and Kurt hates him so viciously in that moment that he just moves past him in silence, into their shared bedroom with still-rumpled sheets and the tiny pieces of their intertwined lives, Kurt’s glasses on Blaine’s nightstand and Blaine’s slippers by Kurt’s side of the bed.

He lets his eyes linger over the space they created, the sanctuary, and the betrayal is bitter in his throat.  He takes a breath and begins.

For the second time in his life, Kurt packs a bag and walks away.

**

He feels lighter the further he gets from the city.  He stops for a very late lunch outside of Providence after he makes the turn off of 95. He’s still a good three hours away, Tina tells him when he calls from the restaurant parking lot, and she assures him that his late arrival is okay.

He gets lucky, doesn’t hit much traffic heading down the Cape. He notices that he’s breathing easier, that his hands aren’t clenching tight around the steering wheel.  He turns the air conditioner off and rolls the windows down as he leaves the Bourne Bridge in his rearview, breathes in the salt and sea air.  He’s driven most of the way in silence, but suddenly his body is begging for music so he flips the radio through staticky stations until he gets one in clear.  It’s pop, Top 40, whatever, and it makes Kurt feel old because he doesn’t recognize half the songs.

But it’s music, regardless, and the farther he drives the more loose and relaxed his body feels against the warm fabric of the driver’s seat.  He closes his mind around Blaine’s pleading as he walked out of their apartment - their life – and just tries to look forward.

He stops at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Barnstable for a large iced coffee, and decides to splurge on a chocolate glazed donut which he eats in chunks, one-handed, as he drives on.  The road narrows as he winds through Wellfleet and Truro, and then he’s driving over what feels like a spit of a sandbar, and the sand opens up to land again.  He follows the detailed directions Tina sent to his phone through the tourist-clogged streets of Provincetown to the tiny dirt road that leads to the beach house she and Mike have for the summer.

Tina was right, the house is nothing special.  The outside is weathered, and the inside is dimly lit. The sliding door at the back sticks like crazy as she leads him out to the small, square deck.

“ . . . but the beach is right here,” Tina says, sweeping her hand out at the ocean, which is practically roaring with waves.  She steps back into the living room, such as it is, the couch buried under blankets and photocopies and stacks of library books.  Tina’s laptop sits open on the coffee table.  She wipes her feet on the rag rug in front of the door.  “We try to keep the sand out, but it’s pretty useless,” she says with a nod at the broom and dustpan nestled in the corner.  “We sweep like three times a day.”

He follows her up rickety stairs to the tiny loft tucked under the eaves. “This is the ‘guest’ space,” Tina tells him, a hint of apology in her voice.  “I know, it’s kind of warm and stuffy, but we haven’t opened the windows up here until this morning, since we hadn’t been using it. If it’s too hot, let me know and we’ll pick up a fan in town.”

There’s a full-sized bed, a small dresser, and a wooden bar set into the wall for a closet. Sparse, but cozy, and Kurt has a trash bag with bedding from the apartment, because he’d picked it out and he has no idea what Blaine is going to do with his order to just take care of everything that he’d shouted as he’d left the apartment. Kurt shakes his head, makes noises that must be approval enough for Tina. She smiles at him and takes his hand, leads him back down the stairs. He’s kind of numb, if he’s being honest, and Tina must see it because when they hit the bottom of the stairs she wraps him in a bone-crushing hug.

“Don’t tell me you’re okay when you’re not,” she says into his ear, and he sighs into her hair.

“I’m- yeah. Not okay.” Tina will always feel like home to him, more than Blaine ever was, and Kurt isn’t sure if it’s because she gave him space when everything happened, or if it’s because she’s always seen him for exactly who he is.

“I know.” She releases him and turns, steps six inches away into the miniscule kitchen with the peeling plastic countertop.

“I hate to tell you, T, but this is like the saddest beach house ever,” he says and follows behind her, jumping out of the way to avoid being cracked in the knee with the refrigerator door. Tina ducks inside, and her voice is slightly muffled as she hands him a beer. “What?” he asks, eyeballing the counter for a bottle opener before just wadding up the hem of his t-shirt and undoing the lid that way.

“I said,” she replies, emerging from the fridge and holding her own bottle out to him for opening, “that it was the right price. Half off, because of Mike’s thing, and then it turns out that he got some kind of stipend from the Conservatory on top of the stipend from the workshop here, so it’s close to free.  For a fucking summer on the beach, Kurt. I mean, really. And, it means me not having to drive down here every weekend.” She takes a swig of her beer and pads back into the living room, carefully lifting piles of books and papers out of the way and then patting the edge of the couch for Kurt to sit.

He settles next to her and glances at her computer, the falling stars of her screensaver dancing across the screen. “What’s your thesis about, anyway?”

Tina tucks her legs under her and curls closer to him. “Basically, it’s about why women are the ones writing gay male porn.”

Kurt tries to keep from snorting beer out his nose, and he ends up choking instead. “There are men who write gay porn.”

You don’t,” Tina says with a lift of an eyebrow.

Kurt laughs again, thinking of his first editor, back when Blaine was nothing more than an office assistant at Dalton, handing back the marked up manuscript for Infinite Truth and telling him that his sex scenes are well crafted but lack a little something. He remembers almost shaking in his immaculately polished 21 year old shoes and spluttering out, you mean I need to be more explicit. When the guy told him yes, Kurt said I’m not writing porn, for crying out loud.

It had been a major sticking point, actually, but Kurt had dug his heels in and insisted that gay men were about more than just sex, and in the end he’d threatened to just pull his manuscript back.  It hadn’t meant enough, getting published, to compromise what he felt was important about his book.

“You’re right, I don’t.  But some gay authors do.”

Tina shakes her head at him.  “Not as many gay men as straight women.”

“What about lesbians?  Do lesbians write gay porn?”  Because now he’s curious.   He doesn’t know enough lesbian authors to know.  Hell, he doesn’t even know enough gay authors to know.  He doesn’t know enough people, period.

He wishes, sometimes, that he were able to do appearances and readings and signings, but it’s entirely too much.  The one time he tried, for the first book, he had a panic attack so bad after the reading portion of the evening that he’d gone practically catatonic for two days afterwards, and Blaine had put his foot down that there would be no more of that, Kurt.  So there hadn’t been.

Kurt wonders all the time what that decision has cost him.

“I don’t know?”  Tina shrugs and smiles lazily.  “But now I’m curious.  And my research was going so well,” she laments.  “Oh, well.”

“It’ll be fine.  I mean, we can cheer each other on, right?”  He thinks again about his shell of a fourth book, about whether he wants to finish it.  If he’ll even be able to finish it.

“So you’re going to keep writing your series, then?”  Tina props her head on her hand and stares at him.  “I wasn’t sure.”

“Maybe,” Kurt admits.  “I think I need to try, at least.  I mean, they mean so much to so many people.  I don’t know if I can let people down like that.”

“You don’t know if you can let yourself down, you mean.”  Tina’s gaze is steady, heavy, and it makes Kurt squirm.

“Yeah.”  He closes his eyes and rests his head against the back of the couch.

“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  There’s something about being here.  Well, for me at least. The words are just . . . there, you know?”

Kurt nods because he does know, or at least he used to.  The first two books had been like that, the words just falling from his fingers.   This most recent one, he knows it’s probably his best work but the writing of it was absolute agony.  He kind of misses the easiness.

Tina takes his hand between both of hers, squeezes it.  “It’ll be okay, baby,” she whispers over the hum of the lights and crashing of the waves, and she’s familiar like Lima and innocence, and for the first time in the whole wretched day, he cries.

**

Dinner is late, in the dark on the deck, eaten by the fading red glare of the slowly cooling charcoal briquettes.  It’s nothing special, Tina assures him when he tells her not to make a fuss, just grilled chicken and a sliced tomato with salt and pepper from the garden of the woman next door, and some macaroni salad that Mike picked up on his way home from the studio.  Nothing fancy, but it tastes amazing, and it makes Kurt cry again.

Oh, honey, Tina coos at him, and she wraps him in her arms.  Mike kind of pats him a little awkwardly on the shoulder, but his tone when he talks about Blaine is scathing.

“That was a really douchey thing he did,” Mike says, and then goes quiet.  Kurt feels Tina shake her head.

“No, T,” he sniffles.  “It’s okay.  Mike’s right, it was douchey.  You guys don’t have to be so careful around me.  I’m not that fragile,” he says, half in jest, but there’s a part of him that knows it’s no joke.  He is kind of fragile, and it suddenly feels like a bad thing.

He slides out of Tina’s arms and stands, rubs at his eyes.  “I’m exhausted.  I’m going to head to bed.  Leave the dishes, T, I’ll wash them in the morning.”

“You sure you’re okay?”  Tina looks at him sideways, her face full of concern.

“No,” he says, and it may be the most honest he’s been all day.  “But I guess I will be eventually.”

“’Night,” Mike waves at him, and Tina reaches up, hugs him again.

He’s tired and drained and lonely, but his brain is swimming, and he stares at the exposed beams in the loft for hours before finally drifting into a restless sleep on the south side of 3 am.

**

Noah knows that he needs to start his reading with Infinite Truth.  The summary on the back cover is concise: Gabe Jackson flees his Midwestern town at 18, seeking a refuge from the verbal and physical abuse that marred his childhood.  The city was promise, until Gabe realized that the same prejudices existed there.  Alone and adrift, Gabe sets to work to build a new life for himself.  He finds friends in unusual places, builds family from friends, and encounters a surprising first love in the place that could have broken him.

Noah recognizes the story; it’s one he’s read before, plenty of times, and he has to wonder what makes Hummel’s version of it so acclaimed.  The kid won a Lambda for it, six months shy of his 23rd birthday, so it has to be quality.  He takes his mocha and escapes to the back of the coffeehouse, to one of the big arm chairs that nobody ever sits in because they’re not anywhere close to an outlet.  The computer people are all up front, so Noah knows he’ll have peace and quiet to read.

He flips to Chapter 1, bypassing the pages of reviews and blurbs at the front.  The first chapter sets the stage, Gabe in his small town, and Noah can almost taste Ohio in the words.  The sharp contrast of the sounds and smells of the city in Chapter 2 are spot on, as are Gabe’s fears and wide-eyed innocence.  Noah keeps blinking as he reads, tugging himself forcefully from the pages because he’s never met Kurt Hummel, but damn if he hasn’t captured everything that Noah experienced his first months in L.A.

Noah reads, rapid and hungry, until the final page when Gabe carefully hands his heart to the boy he loves.  It’s innocent and somehow so loaded with pain that Noah’s cursing fuck and turning his head to wipe stupid stealthy tears off his cheeks with the rough of a napkin.

“The boy is good,” he mumbles under his breath, because yeah, it may be a universal story, but it’s also a real story.  It’s evocative and painful and hopeful, and parts of it feel like a fantasy while other parts are things Noah has lived himself.

The barista sweeps through his space, offers to take his empty cup, and he hands it to her with shaking fingers.  She stops, and eyes the book in his lap.

“First time reading it, huh?”  She’s young, 19 or 20, maybe.  A student, he thinks.

“Yeah,” he says, and has to swallow around a lump in his throat.

“I haven’t had a chance to read the new one yet,” she says with a shrug, “but the others?  God. I read the first one in high school, and I think maybe it saved my life a little.  I actually skipped classes one day in college to read the second one the day it came out, so.”  She looks slightly ashalmed.  “That’s not weird, is it?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Noah says, because when he first got his ereader he he would wait up until midnight when a new book he wanted was released, so he’s not one to talk about what is or isn’t weird where books are concerned.  He fishes into his messenger bag and pulls out the third book, pristine and unread, hands it to her, along with his business card.  “Here.  I need it back when you’re done, so just email me.”

She shakes her head.  “No need.  Come back in the morning, I’ll have it for you.  Believe me, the new Kurt Hummel book is a reason to stay up all night reading.”  She turns away as the bell over the door jingles, and he watches her walk back behind the counter, absently caressing the cover of the book like it’s a bunny or something, and with a happy smile on her face.

It’s starting to get toward evening, so Noah packs up his things and heads out into the New York rush hour.  He walks quickly, trying to ignore all the people on the sidewalks complaining about the heat and humidity.  He pops into the bodega on his corner for a Coke and a bag of chips, adds a pint of chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, and then buys two tacos from the cart outside before heading to his building.

Like his office, his apartment is half-unpacked.  He’s been subsisting on take out and eating off paper plates with plastic forks because all of his pots and pans and plates are still at the bottom of one of the boxes.  He’s not sure which one, because the one marked kitchen had all his bedding and towels and an oddly placed lamp that he still hasn’t found the shade for, and he’s kind of afraid to go digging too deep into the other boxes, lest he find any more surprises.

He puts the ice cream in his otherwise empty freezer, and sits on the carpet to eat his tacos and chips and drink his pop.  He turns the tv to MLB Network but mutes the volume and watches the Marlins and Mets with half an eye while he opens Infinite Hope.  He’s almost reluctant to start reading, because if it’s as good as the first book he really doesn’t want to be up all night, but then he remembers the barista and how excited she was.  It’s been a long time since he’s felt that way about a book.

“What the hell,” he mutters, and moves to the couch, stretching out with his head propped on a pillow and his feet on the coffee table on top of stacks of the unsolicited manuscripts Will keeps leaving for him in hopes that he’ll stumble on something or someone good.  He’s looking for the next Kurt Hummel, Noah thinks absently.

He opens the book and settles it upright on his chest, and begins.

Just like the first book, he’s into the heart of the story before he knows what’s happening, and when he’s not laughing he’s blinking away tears.  In the middle of the fifth chapter he gets his ice cream from the freezer and eats out of the carton with a plastic spoon, licking away drips before they can fall from the spoon onto his pant leg.  At the end of Chapter 7 he sticks the spoon into the carton and hits the bottom, comes up empty.

“Fuuuuuck,” he drawls, long and slow, and blinks at the tv.  The game is in the middle of the 8th inning, and it’s dark outside.  Noah’s still in his work clothes, and he feels like he’s lost more time than he can count down the rabbit hole of Kurt Hummel’s imagined New York.

It’s like the best and worst drug he’s ever taken, and he has to leave the book on the sofa when he goes to bed.

Except that he can’t sleep, can’t stop wondering about the man who crafts this world that’s making Noah absolutely yearn to be a part of it.

He stays in bed until 6 am, tossing and turning and half-dreaming about false cities and pretend boys and fantasy lives.  In his hazy dreams, he thinks that maybe he can touch that other world, but he’s jolted back to himself with the banging of the garbage truck on the street outside, and his heart is racing and his world, the real one he lives in every day, is too bright.

He slips into jeans and a t-shirt, shoves his feet into flip flops, brushes his teeth and runs a damp hand over his face.  Wallet and keys, and that damn plaguing book, and he’s out on the sidewalk before the heat has had a chance to settle, heavy, into the breaks in the city’s armor.  It’s three blocks to the coffeehouse, and the streets are clear, so he’s there in what feels like a heartbeat.

He smells the coffee from the sidewalk, rich and dark, and the unexpected aroma of something baked, butter and flour, cinnamon and fruit.  The barista – her nametag, which he’d ignored the day before, says Emily – is working behind the counter transferring pastries from a baking sheet into the case.  The rest of the place is empty.

“Hey, you,” she says, glancing up at him and waving a pair of tongs.  “Give me a sec.”

“No problem,” he replies, walking over and peering into the case.  There are muffins and danish and scones stacked high on platters.  “I didn’t know this was a bakery, too.”

Emily just shakes her head at him.  “You usually get your morning coffee at Starbucks, don’t you?”

Noah laughs.  “Because the line here is out the door every time I go by, and I’m usually running late for work because I’m still on freaking California time.”  He holds up his wrist, taps his watch which he hasn’t been able to make himself reset and is still blinking somewhere just after 3 am.

“That’s pretty pathetic.  What has you up so early today?”  She strides into the back, and he can hear the clang of her baking pan and the buzz of a timer, and the muted sound of voices.

When she returns, she has a stack of large cardboard cups, and she pulls one off the top. “Mocha, yeah?”

“Please,” he says, leaning against the counter and setting his book down.  “This is what has me up.  I hardly slept last night.”

“Sounds about right.  Good books can do that.  Is that why you’re in publishing?”

Noah takes his mocha and nods at the case.  “Chocolate chip muffin and a cranberry orange scone, too?  And yes, it’s kind of why I’m in publishing.”

Emily laughs as she sets his pastries on a plate.  “I sense a story there.”

“Nothing special,” he says, but it goes so much deeper than that and he doesn’t know how to answer her question.  “Where are you in school?”

“Queens College, in their grad program for Library and Information Studies.”

Noah almost drops his plate.  “You’re too young for grad school.”

She tips her head at him.  “You’re too young to be a big shot publisher.”

He recovers and makes it to a table without spilling anything on himself.  “I’m 30.  Well.  In September.  And I’m not a big shot or a publisher, just a guy with a new job in a new city whose boss is a jackass.”

“I can’t believe you haven’t read Kurt Hummel before now.  What kind of rock have you been living under?”

Noah watches from his table as she works, filling four insulated pitchers with different kinds of milk, stocking napkins and sugar packets and coffee stirrers and those little cardboard sleeves.  “I lived in LA,” he says, like it’s an explanation instead of an excuse.  “I worked independently, for friends who wrote comics and screenplays and shit like that.”

“And you left the sand and the sun to come here why?”

Noah wants to tell her, to tell somebody, but he has no idea where the boundaries are here, what is considered too much information to give to a stranger.  He peels the wrapper off his muffin and breaks it into pieces, pops one into his mouth and chews for a moment to buy himself a little time.

“I needed a change,” he finally says after he swallows.  “I couldn’t stay there anymore.”

Emily nods at him, her face serious.  “Understood.  You going to sit a while?”

“Yeah,” he answers, opening his book.  “I think I’m going to work from ‘home’ today.”

“I’ll go get the other book.  It was perfect, thank you for sharing it.”

“You’re welcome,” he mumbles, but he’s already falling back down into the story, and he kind of never wants to come out.

**

It takes him a third day to get through the third book, and he has 27 unread emails from Will when he finally emerges from the stupor of all of those words.

You’re right, he sends back to Will.  He’s good.  We need him.  But there’s something nagging at him, some tiny part of Kurt Hummel that bleeds a little on the page, something that makes him think he needs proceed with extreme caution.  If I’m going to make this happen, I need to do it on my own time.  I don’t think we can rush him, or push too hard.

Will’s email comes back almost instantly.  He’s an author, not an abused puppy.

Noah’s heart races as he sends his reply.  He might be going too far, but he doesn’t feel like he has a choice.  We do this my way, or we don’t do it at all.  I think we need to be careful with him. Trust me, please.

It takes the entire Yankees/Rays pre-game show for Will to get back to him.   Fine.  But you better get it done or you’ll be out of a job.

“Fuck you, Will,” Noah mumbles, unmutes the tv, and opens a beer.

Part II: July 2024

On Fourth of July they sit on the deck watching families on the beach light sparklers.  Mike has Tina tucked into his lap, and Kurt is wrapped in a blanket, and it’s beautiful and silent, and it makes him cry.

After that first night, almost everything makes him cry.

Tina keeps railing against Blaine in these odd, random fits of misplaced rage.  One noontime they’re making egg salad sandwiches for lunch and Tina looks at him from where she’s carefully stirring mayonnaise into the egg and mustard and scallions, a glob of the mixture dangerously close to falling on the counter.  “He was only thinking with his dick,” she says with a frown.

“I don’t know why.”  Kurt has to pitch his voice up more than usual, because he can’t seem to find his usual volume and Tina keeps reminding him that she can’t hear for crap if he tries to talk to her when he’s running the water.  He turns off the faucet and dries two leaves of romaine between inadequate store-brand paper towel.  “I mean, it wasn’t like I was holding out on him or anything.”

“I didn’t say you were.  I’m just saying, I think he’s a dick for only thinking with his, and you didn’t deserve what he did to you.”  She spreads the salad on two slices of thick multigrain bread from the bakery in town, and slides the plates over to Kurt.  He tops both with a piece of the romaine, and another slice of bread.

“Rectangle or triangle?” he asks, his knife hovering over Tina’s plate.

“Triangle, of course.”  She smiles as he presses down with his knife, and he hands her plate over before carefully cutting his own into four smaller triangles.

The tears are there again, not for Blaine this time but for his mom, who used to cut all of his bread products that way, from toast to grilled cheese to the peanut butter and jelly she would pack carefully into his first grade lunch, inside a little sandwich box so the pieces didn’t get smooshed against his juice box and apple.  “I know I didn’t deserve it,” he says, and settles next to her on the couch, her laptop humming between them and a morning’s notecards scattered on the worn area rug.  “I honestly don’t know why he did it.  I’m not sure I really want to know, actually.”

He can’t tell Tina the thoughts that keep him up at night, that if he were more capable of being normal, being in the world as opposed to just a breath outside of it, then maybe Blaine wouldn’t have felt the pull of someone else.  He also doesn’t quite know how to talk about the absolutely paralyzing fear that he’ll lose all his credibility if it gets out that Blaine was his boyfriend as well as his editor.  He knows he got lucky, back when he first finished Infinite Truth, that he knew someone in the right place at the right time, but everything that’s happened to him since has been because of his own hard work.

He has nothing, now, except for his words, and he worries as he nibbles at his sandwich that even those won’t be enough to save him again.

**

Once he finishes reading, Noah starts researching.  He follows trails and breadcrumbs, down rabbit holes and all over the internet and back, but somehow everything concrete he can find about Kurt Hummel outside of book reviews begins and ends in Lima, OH, in 2012.

When he sees the picture, an old archived one on the Columbus Dispatch website, though, it all falls into place.

He’d been so wrapped up in himself, back then, angry and lost and working 80 hours a week between three jobs to scrape enough money together so he could get the hell out of Chillicothe, he hadn’t been paying attention when Ohio’s improbable congressman had been seriously injured in a shooting at a campaign event on Election Day.  He hadn’t really cared that the congressman’s son had become the sudden spokesperson for his father, for his family, standing stoic behind a podium night after night until the day after Thanksgiving, the news always the same, my father remains in critical but stable condition, until the news wasn’t the same.

The picture on the website is of Kurt Hummel, pale in black wool and standing in front of a gravestone with his head bowed, two long-stem red roses in one long-fingered hand.  Kurt Hummel, son of late Congressman Burt Hummel, at his father’s graveside.  His mother passed away from illness in 2002.   As far as Noah can tell, Hummel has never spoken to the press again since breaking word of his father’s death.  Noah wonders how many people even realize who Kurt Hummel is, because none of the reviews he’s read have made any indication that the reviewers either knew or cared.

Orphaned at 18, and disappeared into the world.  The trail goes cold after that 2012 picture.  No college records, no job or address that Noah can find.  The only email contact is off Hummel’s spartan website, and when he clicks on the link to send a message to Kurt Hummel, the address line looks like some kind of generic filter.

Of course.

Even so, Noah sends three emails the first week hoping to get something in return.

All he gets is Will’s wrath and another stack of unsolicited manuscripts to review.  Every one of them has vampires or badly written bondage, and some of them have both.

Noah kind of hates his life.

**

The days fall into an easy routine.  Kurt wakes early, just like he always has, and goes running on the beach when it’s still dawn, the Race Point Lighthouse at his back and the waves all the music he needs.  After his shower, and after he and Tina send Mike off to the studio, he takes his laptop out onto the miniscule back deck, leaving Tina to her mountains of books and journals and scattered photocopies.  She pokes away at her thesis, and Kurt just pokes.  He wonders, as he stares at his cursor blinking hour after hour, if he even has any words left.

Nights, after Mike gets home and Tina shuts down her computer and Kurt pretends like he’s done something all day besides stare at the ocean, they cook out on the tiny charcoal grill and people watch.  Kurt studiously avoids getting completely drunk, because he’s afraid that if he starts numbing the sharpness of Blaine’s betrayal, he’ll lose himself and then where will he be?

Kurt avoids his email for the first few weeks, until he gets a terse text message from his agent,  Wayne, telling him check your damn email, kid.  Something bounced back to me today, and I just need to know you aren’t dead or anything.

Kurt almost snorts coffee out his nose at the man’s insensitivity, but he’s never pushed Kurt, not after that first event that he couldn’t handle, so Kurt dutifully logs in.  Wayne is right, his inbox is full.  There are tentative messages from Carole and Finn, which he replies to in one email, nothing more involved than visiting friends for the summer.  I’m okay, but trying to stay off the grid.  I’ll call soon, love you both.

Two emails from Wayne, asking how he’s doing.

An interview request from The Advocate that must have slipped through.  He forwards it to Wayne with a request: please make this go away.

There is more spam than he wants to think about, but he deletes it all.

And then there are seven messages from one Noah Puckerman at New Directions Publishing.

They all say essentially the same thing, a variation on please be in touch, we’re very interested in bringing you on board here at ND.

Kurt deletes six and leaves the most recent, sent just that morning.  He opens a second browser tab and looks up first New Directions Publishing, and then Noah Puckerman.  He learns very little about the publishing house that he didn’t already know from Blaine: they’re new, devoted solely to advancing gay and lesbian authors, and from what he can see of their catalog they’re at least trying to stay away from the same kind of light romance and extreme porn that some of the smaller niche houses are known for.

Even so, he’s reluctant to engage.  He doesn’t want to get pigeonholed, because he’s managed to avoid that so far.  He feels like it says a lot about his books, that they’re not strictly marketed as gay fiction, and he’d like to keep it that way.

A gay and lesbian press isn’t going to do that for him.

And he’s really not sure what Noah Puckerman is going to do for him either.  Everything he finds on google leads him to believe that the guy is kind of a hack, since he seems to have spent the past ten years doing something in Hollywood with screenplays and tv scripts comic books, like he’s still fifteen or something.

He mentions it to Tina, over their afternoon cups of tea, and she ribs him for it.

“You’re a snob, Kurt,” she says, smacking him on the knee with the Mother Jones magazine that had arrived in the day’s mail.

“I’m not,” he insists, but it’s halfhearted.  Blaine was always . . . particular . . ., and opinionated to boot, so Kurt got used to just going along with whatever Blaine thought.  It’s not that he’s a snob, he thinks, settling back against the arm of the sofa and wrapping his hands around his mug.  It’s more that he’s well trained, and he needs to start breaking away from some of that.  “Blaine thought tv was pedestrian,” he finally says in a whisper.

“Blaine was full of himself.  What shows did this guy work on?”

Kurt shrugs.  “I don’t know.  His bio just said that he worked for friends.  I suppose I could email back and ask his credentials.  I mean, I can’t imagine he’d be hired as an editor if he couldn’t do the work.  I just- I don’t think I can trust my words to someone else.”

Even so, the thought of someone out there who wants just his words is appealing.  It feels like almost everyone around him wants things he can’t give them.

He’s not enough.  He’s never enough, at least not in a world where even your fans feel like they’re owed a piece of your soul.

He doesn’t know how to put himself back out there, not as a person and most certainly not as a writer, so he leaves the email alone.  He doesn’t respond, and he doesn’t do anything about the rest, the three a week that Puckerman sends, still the same message.  We’re interested, please call me so we can discuss details.

**

Tina is the one who finally makes him do something, when she catches him muttering over his laptop on a Friday afternoon.  He’s been staring at the whole lot of them, the emails from Puckerman, when he isn’t staring at a blank page and blinking cursor.

“I thought you’d told him to back off,” she says, peering over his shoulder and setting a glass of lemonade at his elbow.

“I couldn’t,” he sighs, pushing his laptop into the middle of the table.  “It felt mean.”

“You need to tell him something.”

“He wants my fourth book.  He wants to take it and put it out there as a gay novel, and I don’t think I can let that happen.”

Tina slides into a chair and frowns at him.  “Honey, are there gay boys fucking in your books?”

“Of course,” he says, and it’s a silly thing for her to ask because she’s always been the first of his friends to read the advanced copies he sends.

“Then I think you already write gay novels.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he replies.  “I just- I’ve seen it happen to other writers.  They get shoved into that genre and then they’re not good enough.”

Tina pats his arm.  Kurt’s sure that she means it to be sympathetic, but it smacks a little of condescension.  “But you won a Lambda, Kurt.  That’s a gay award, and you’re a gay man, and you write books about gay men.  I don’t understand.”

Kurt wants to explain, but when he tries to track the thoughts through his brain, all he can hear is Blaine’s voice, from back when he was still typing through his grief in the middle of the night instead of sleeping in their bed.  Don’t let them put you in a box, Blaine whispered one night when Kurt was so driven by the words that he drank a whole pot of coffee in the dark of their tiny kitchen.  You’re better than that.  You’ve been other your whole life.  Now is your chance to escape that.

He remembers the way the words stung, then.  Now, they just echo, and like everything else Blaine told him when he was wrecked and unhearing, he’s doubting the truth of all of it.

**

He waits, though.  He can’t contact Puckerman until he makes sense of the things he still isn’t quite grasping, the things that had been Blaine’s way.

He doesn’t know for sure when he became that guy, the one who didn’t question, but he suspects that it started on a sunny November afternoon in Western Ohio when Blaine was the only one he knew how to hold onto.

So he waits, and picks through the pieces of that past he’d like to erase, and watches the families on the beach, gay men and lesbians with babies and toddlers and school aged kids.  On Wednesday he’s there, on the deck, as a gaggle of teens slides past the house, their voices carrying over the wind and the waves.  A skinny girl in a one-piece Speedo, soccer shorts, and flip-flops is clinging to the hand of the girl next to her, the two of them smiling and taking good-natured ribbing from the boys around them.

So much for gays not raising gay kids, one of them teases, knocking them with an elbow.  The Speedo girl turns, pulls her girlfriend close, and kisses her hard.  The girlfriend blushes, smiles, and teases right back in a thick Boston accent, but Kurt can’t hear her reply.

He used to think that he and Blaine would have kids, would bring them to events like Family Week, but that’s gone now, too, and he needs to move past it all if he’s going to be able to even get off the deck.

He watches the kids go, smiles after them, and takes a deep breath, opens his email, and starts typing.

**

Noah’s packing up, on his way out of the office the last Wednesday in July, busy shoving still more manuscripts into his bag, when his email dings.

He feels like he should recognize the return address, infinitetruth@gmail.com, but it isn’t until he’s halfway through the email that he makes the connection.

Mr. Puckerman-

While I admire your persistence, I would greatly appreciate if you please stopped emailing me.

I’m not making any decisions about the future of my next book.  If you tell anyone else I will deny it, but there may not even be a next book.  And if there is, I might need convincing about what a niche publisher like New Directions can offer me that I wouldn’t get at a larger house.  When that time does come, you need to know that I’ll be making all the decisions about who to trust with my words.

-Kurt Hummel

Noah wants to respond right away, but he’s got a ticket to the Mets/Dodgers game, and even though the Dodgers are pretty bad this season, he’s not going to walk away from 11 years in LA like it was nothing.  He’s going to go cheer on his boys, and Kurt Hummel can wait.

**

He makes Kurt Hummel wait two days,in fact, mostly because he doesn’t know what to say, and in part because he doesn’t want Will to poke his head too far into things, and as long as he doesn’t reply he can still be lying a little when he says no every time Will asks if he’s communicated with Hummel yet.

He does lie, a little, on Friday morning when Will knocks on his door with that grin that still makes Noah uncomfortable even though he doesn’t quite know why.

“Hey,” Will raises his coffee in salute.  “Any word?”

“No,” Noah says, minimizing the window where he’s been carefully composing a reply to Kurt.

Will scrubs at his chin.  “We need to know soon.  If we could get him on board now, we could aim for a June release next year, and I can’t tell you how good that would be for us.  The financial situation is kind of ugly right now, I know you know, and this could make us, not just next year.  If people hear we’ve got Hummel, it raises our cache immediately.”

“He’s a writer, Will, not your personal cash cow.”  Noah isn’t sure why he feels protective, but it’s been plaguing him since he read the books and now that there’s been an email, he really can’t shake it.

“He’s what we need.  His books would give us weight, would attract the kinds of authors we want.  Think of our books, on the shelves in Fiction and Romance and Mystery instead of in the back of the store in the GLBT section.  That’s what I wanted to do here, and right now the no-name authors we’re signing aren’t going to be able to give us that.”

Noah’s pulse is racing a little, because he hates the idea of Kurt being relegated to anything less than a full person.  “He’s so much more than just his books, Will.  He’s worthy for more than just his words.”  He tries to keep his voice level, but he’s getting worked up.

“You don’t even know the kid,” Will says with a stare.  “Unless . . .”

“What?”  Noah snaps.

“Unless you’ve been holding out on me.”

“No,” Noah replies.  “I just- his books.  They completely slayed me, and it just feels like there’s so much of him on the page.  I guess I feel like I know him, because of that?  And the idea of you taking advantage of him bothers me.”

“I’m not going to take advantage,” Will says, as though the thought has never seriously occurred to him.  Maybe it hasn’t, but Noah isn’t taking any chances.

“You promised me I could do this my way.  Please let me.  I can make it happen, and I can make it happen for the right reasons, not just because it’s what’s best for you.”

Will splutters a little, and tries to cover his reaction with a sip of his coffee.  “I’ve underestimated you, Puckerman,” he says once he’s recovered.  “You’re more ruthless than I thought.”  He smiles again, and Noah squirms a little because . . . there’s just something off about it.

He waits until Will is gone, back up the hall to harass someone else, he hopes, until he whispers after his retreating form it’s not ruthlessness, asshole, I’m just not going to let you hurt him.

And fuck if the whole protectiveness thing isn’t getting seriously old.

He doesn’t even know where it’s coming from, and that’s got him more than a little freaked.

**

It takes him half the damn day to get the email composed, the right mix of business and something that most decidedly isn’t, enough prodding questions tossed at the screen in hopes that at least one will stick and too few to make it seem like he’s pushing.

Because the last thing he wants to do is push Kurt away, and he can’t think about that too long either, because he’s too damn old to have a crush on an author, for fuck’s sake.

He finally leans back in his chair and hits send on the email just before 3 pm.

Dear Mr. Hummel-

May I call you Kurt?  And please, call me Noah, I’m not a Mister anything.

I’m sorry to hear that there may not be a fourth book in your series; it would truly be a loss if you stopped writing.  I’ve spoken to several readers whose lives were changed by your words.

As far as what New Directions can offer you, yes we are a new house without the prestige of the Dalton imprint.  However, we are committed to bringing LGBT authors and their books out of the dark and into the mainstream where they belong.  You wouldn’t get lost here, or be stuck with a publisher who wouldn’t know how to market your book.

I know you’d been with Dalton for your whole career, and switching publishers at this juncture has to feel incredibly risky.  Just trust me, I won’t let you down.

-Noah

He turns off his computer, packs up, and sneaks out of the office before anyone can notice he is gone.

Part III: August 2024

Kurt stares, half-unseeing, at his laptop and the email on his screen.  He knows he’s supposed to have some kinds of thoughts about this, but all he can think is that he’s being flirted with.

“Hey,” Tina nudges at the half-open slider with her bare foot and shoves a bottle of rum at him.  She squeezes through the narrow space and sets two ice-filled glasses and a bottle of Coke on the table.  “I finished the main section today, so we’re celebrating.”

Kurt waits while she pours their drinks, and he swirls his in his glass and turns his laptop to face her.  “Read this, and tell me what you think.  Because I think maybe I’m being flirted with.”

“Oh, is this the publisher guy?  He’s hot for you, huh?”  Tina swigs her drink and leans forward on her elbows to read, and then she settles back in her chair with a funny look on her face.  “I know you’re kind of sheltered, baby, but I don’t know what he’s going for here.  I mean, it’s not quite flirty, but it’s definitely not professional.”

“He has a crush on me,” Kurt says flatly.

“No,” Tina says, shaking her head and pushing his laptop back across the table to him.  “He has a crush on your words.”

Kurt feels himself blush hotly like he’s fucking sixteen again, and he snaps the lid closed, settling back into his chair with his drink.  “I can’t handle that right now.”

Later, when they’re halfway into the bottle of rum and the families on the beach are starting to pack up to head home for dinner, Kurt sighs and sets his sweaty glass on the table.  “I haven’t dated since I was sixteen.  I didn’t have to shop my book, or find my publisher or anything like that.  Blaine just jumped in and sort of . . . took charge of things, after.  And I have no idea how to be an adult, now.”

Tina props her feet up on the edge of Kurt’s chair and gestures at her toes, the nails painted sparkly pink.  “I sometimes think we’re all making it up as we go along.  I’m as much of an adult as you are.  Maybe less so, just because of everything that’s happened to you.”

Kurt can feel the alcohol making him loose and uninhibited, and the words for everything he’s never talked about are right there but he can’t let go of them.  Instead, he just closes his eyes and feels the tears as they slide, slow and silent, down his cheeks.

“Oh, baby,” Tina clucks at him, and for as much as she feels like she’s not an adult, Kurt thinks that she makes a good mother hen.

“When’re you and Mike gonna start having kids?” he asks, his voice thick with emotion.

“We’re pulling the goalie after I finish my thesis.”

Kurt chokes on his drink, the rum burning hot at the back of his throat.  “Excuse me?”

Tina crinkles her eyes and smiles at him.  “Sometimes I forget you’re gay.”

Kurt tips his head at her.  “How is that even possible?”

“You’re just Kurt,” she says, and then continues.  “We’re giving up protection after I finish my thesis, so hopefully there’ll be a little C-squared baby next summer.”

Kurt smiles.  “That’s awesome.  Your parents will be excited.”

Tina shakes her head and pours a finger’s worth of rum into her glass, glances at the Coke bottle, and just downs the rum straight.  “Mike’s mother is still all worked up about us living in sin and refusing to get married.  Grandchild or not, she’ll be having fits over it being illegitimate.”

“Why haven’t you?  Gotten married?  I mean, I know why you didn’t, but when the court case came down last year I figured you guys would be first in line to tie the knot.”

Tina shrugs.  “We kind of never thought it would ever happen, and we’re happy as we are, so.  Maybe someday, but it’s not the most important thing for us right now.”

Kurt nudges her calf with his knee.  “No, babies are more important.”

“And my thesis, and whether Mike’s going to be offered a choreography residency this year.  He’ll never say it, but he’s worried.  It’s getting so late, most of his friends had offers in the spring, but Mike’s not, um.  Traditional.  Even in contemporary dance circles, his stuff definitely pushes the envelope, so.  We’re trying not to freak out.”

“It’ll all work out,” Kurt tells her, running his thumb over the edge of the table.  “Something will come through for Mike, and your thesis is going to be awesome, and you’re going to have the most adorable babies.”

“I hope you’re right,” Tina sighs.  “I really want that.  You’ll be Uncle Kurt, right?”

“Sure,” Kurt blinks.  “Best gay uncle on the planet,” he says, and shifts in his chair to face the ocean.  It all suddenly feels like too much, like all the casual intimacy of both Noah Puckerman’s email and Tina’s news is breaking over him and he can’t breathe.

Tina presses her foot against his thigh.  “You’ll get through all of this.  You’ve gotten through so much worse, baby.”

“Yeah,” Kurt says, drawing in a shaky breath.  He pushes up and out of his chair, dislodging Tina’s feet, and she just tucks them under herself and watches him.  “I’m going to take a walk.  I’ll be back for dinner.”

“Okay,” she answers, voice soft.

“It’s not- not you, T.  It’s just everything.”

“I know,” she says, and she reaches out and grabs his hand and squeezes before he can escape down the short steps and onto the warm sand.  “We’re okay, you and I.  I’ll be here when you get back.”

“Thanks,” he replies, slides his sunglasses down over his eyes, and takes off.

The sand is soft, and it gives under his feet.  He stalks down to the edge of the water and walks in the cool wet of the ocean lapping at his toes.

He’s restless, and he knows what he needs.  He needs to write.  He can feel the words coiling up inside of him the same way they did in those first months after, but he doesn’t know what to do with them.  He can’t write another Infinity book, at least not right now, he knows that for certain.  Everything else is sort of up in the air.

He climbs up onto a little outcropping of rocks and sits, stares at the ocean.  There’s a little snippet of an opening phrase echoing in his head, nothing romantic or funny or light, and always in the back of his thoughts is the idea that if he writes the dark and painful story he wants, he’s going to alienate his readers.

Sometimes he hates thinking about his readers.  When he wrote Infinite Truth, he hadn’t been thinking at all.  It was only after the book was a success that Blaine had urged him to continue giving readers (and Gabe) a happy ending.  But it’s not realistic, he’d told Blaine once, when he was in the end stages of writing Infinite HopeNot everyone ends up with a perfect happy life, you and I both know that as well as anyone else.

Blaine had shaken his head and said that romance was romance, and don’t we all deserve a happy ending?  So Kurt had kept on, giving Gabe his boyfriend and, in the last pages of Infinite Love, an engagement.

It isn’t that he doesn’t believe in love; on the contrary, he’s somewhat of a hopeless romantic still, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to write about love and hope and brightness.  Instead, the words that want to spill out of him are full of desperation and heartache, and he feels oddly like he did when he was closeted and alone all those years ago in Lima before Glee, before Blaine.  Before everything happened and his life changed, and changed again, and then screeched to a cold shaking halt with the click of a gun.

That’s the story he wants to tell, needs to tell.

But he’s terrified, and he doesn’t know how to begin.

**

When he gets back to the house, windswept and salt-crusty, Tina and Mike are talking softly in the kitchen.  Kurt can see them, huddled together and backlit by the gentle light, but he doesn’t go inside.  Instead, he flips the lid of his laptop open and types out a reply to Noah Puckerman.

Noah-

Thank you for your email.

Everything you have to say about New Directions makes perfect sense, it really does, but I have to admit that I'm still skeptical.  Maybe in time you can convince me otherwise?

The future of the Infinity series is . . . uncertain, right now.  But I do know now that I'm going to write another book; I think it might shock people, because it's going to be so very different from my other books.

I hope my branching off into something a little different won't be an issue for you, if I do decide to come over to New Directions.   I just can't write happy romantic fluff right now.

My friends who I'm staying with, I call them the C-squareds because of their last name, are talking about having babies.  For some reason, this is freaking me out.  Maybe it’s because my birthday is in two weeks and even though I've lived through a lot, I still feel like I'm sixteen and none of my friends should be having babies yet.

Have a good night.

-Kurt

He can feel Tina lurking by the open slider, and he nods her over as he hits send on the email and powers his laptop off.  “I’m okay,” he sighs, settles back into his chair and into the lightness of Tina’s arms, awkward but comforting, around his shoulders.

“The walk helped?”

“Yeah.”  He leans into her, feels her hair tickling his cheek.  “Some things came together for me.”

“Good.  I’m glad.  I’ve been worried about you, and what you’re going to do at the end of the month when Mike and I go back to Boston.”

Kurt stares out at the pink streaks of sunset, coming earlier and earlier every day.  “Do you think- I mean, if there’s nobody else interested, I think I’d like to take over the house, at least for September.  I need some time,” he says, the admission heavy in his chest.  “I need more time, to get myself together and make some real plans.”

“Yeah,” Tina says softly.  “You’ve kind of been avoiding things, huh?”

Kurt snorts.  “I think that’s an understatement.  But I think I’m finally ready to start dealing.”

“Good,” Tina says, and Kurt feels her nod firmly behind him.  “I’ll call the rental agency in the morning.”

“Thanks, hon.”  He turns his head and pecks a kiss to her cheek.

“You ready for dinner?  Mike picked up sandwiches and ice cream, and he’s hungry.”

Kurt rolls his eyes.  “Mike spends his days moving, while you and I are lumpish.  Of course he’s hungry.”

Tina laughs, and waves at Mike, who joins them with a bag of subs and a family sized bag of potato chips.  “You doing better, man?”  Mike slinks into the chair next to Kurt.

“Yeah,” Kurt says, and the smile that he offers to Mike feels like one of the more genuine things he’s done in weeks.  “I actually am.  Please tell me you got me roast beef?”

“Horseradish cheddar, lettuce, no tomato, on wheat,” Mike smiles back, knocking Kurt’s knee with his own.  “I remember.”

Kurt shakes his head, suddenly aware that even after thirteen years together, Blaine could never remember that he doesn’t - and never has - liked tomatoes.

For the first time all summer, thinking of Blaine doesn’t make him want to cry.  He unwraps his sandwich and tears into the bag of chips, grabbing a handful and layering them carefully over the lettuce and putting the top piece of bread back on.

“That’s really kind of gross,” Tina tells him with a frown.  “I still don’t understand the appeal.”

“It’s a texture thing,” Kurt tells her for the millionth time.  “You’ve only been watching me put chips in my sandwiches since middle school.  You should be used to it by now.”

Tina wrinkles her nose.  “I’ll never be used to that.”

“Now I’ll wish you babies who like chips in their sandwiches instead of on the side.”

“I hate you, Kurt Hummel.”

Kurt takes a bite of his sandwich, and chews and swallows carefully.  “Best. Gay. Uncle. Ever.”  He raises his fist in the air in mock victory, and everything feels light and genuine and exactly right.

**

Noah’s tucked into a back table at the only sports bar he’s found in the city that gets the West Coast games, trying to watch the Padres and the Rockies duke it out at the bottom of the NL West and studiously avoiding the fresh round of manuscripts that he’s set on the table in front of him.  He’s got a beer and the remnants of a plate of nachos, and a red pen that he’s tapping against the dark wood of the table.  He’s feeling itchy, like he needs to be part of something bigger than himself.  He thinks about trying a bar or a club, but he doesn’t even know where to begin with that and he’s not 18 anymore.

As much as the idea of a connection is appealing, the idea of anonymous sex with strangers leaves him turned off. He’s lonely, but he’s not sure if he actually misses Kyle or just the idea of having someone to come home to, to share a life with.  He’s spent the summer trying not to mourn the loss of a future he and Kyle were never going to have anyway, but the break-up still stings and he pretty much severed all his ties to LA the day he left without telling anyone where he was going.

It was a shit move, the same kind of jackass stunt that his dad pulled time and again when Noah was a kid, but there’s a reason he hates getting emotionally attached to anyone or anything.

That’s why he has three unanswered emails from Kurt Hummel beckoning at him from his phone, and from his computer every time he logs into his email.  He’s letting himself get too close, feel too much, and he needs to pull back a little.  It’s only the right thing to do, or at least that’s what he tells himself.

But then he thinks about what Kurt said in the first email, the one that came late Friday evening over a week ago.  The one that told him what he’d been trying not to dig after, that Kurt does plan to write again.

The excitement he feels at that tidbit has nothing to do with Will and his wants and everything to do with how desperately Noah wants to just lose himself in more of Kurt’s words and created worlds.

He’s pretty well screwed, because this admiration or crush or whatever he’s got going on is twenty kinds of disaster just waiting to happen, and he knows that if he thinks too hard about it it’s going to start affecting his ability to do his job.

Oh, who the hell is he kidding?  It’s already affecting his job, because he’s holding out on Will and Will’s method of passive aggressive revenge is the stack of lesbian romances that are currently stuffed into his messenger bag.

He downs the last of his beer and tucks his work and his pen back into his bag.

He has to email Kurt, and he sure as hell isn’t going to do it in a bar.

He ends up halfway between the bar and his apartment, at the Starbucks that’s open late, a decaf latté at his elbow, typing as fast as his fingers will move.

Dear Kurt-

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.  I could lie, and tell you that I’ve been busy or . . . anything, I suppose.  But the truth is that I’m not sure what to do, here.

My boss was the one who sent me after you in the first place; I’ll admit that I hadn’t read your books until June, but I read all three in three days, and they shook me hard because I’ve lived some of what you put in those pages, and I guess it made me feel sort of, well.  Protective.  My boss pretty much wants you only for your reputation and what he thinks you can do for New Directions, but I think you’re worth so much more than that, so I’ve been stalling him.  Demanding that he let me do things my way.

All that’s really gotten me are some of the worst unsolicited manuscripts in the whole office.  This week it’s lesbian romances, which, I’ll have to admit, are somewhat better than the kinky vampires.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, really, other than that you matter to me, in a way you probably shouldn’t, especially since we’ve never met and we’ve only exchanged a few emails.

I want to keep getting to know you, and I hope that when you’re ready to find a publisher for whatever book you write next, you’ll trust me with it.  Because I promise, I’ll keep you and your words safe.

And as for people having babies, I’m not one to talk.  My high school girlfriend and I had a baby when we were sixteen, so.  She’s a great kid, we have an open adoption and I see her a few times a year, birthday and holiday cards and all.  She’s got a better life than her birth mom and I could have given her back then, but going through that kind of messed me up for a while.

Anyway.  Your friends’ll probably be amazing parents.

-Noah

Even though it’s late, and the city almost full dark, he hears his phone chirp in his pocket before he’s three blocks away from the Starbucks.  He doubts that it’s Kurt; it’s more likely to be Will, who emails at all hours of the day and night, including on the weekends.  Noah originally wasn’t sure if Will has no life or no boundaries, but lately he figures it’s just a combination of both and usually leaves the emails until he’s in the office.

He gives in, though, and checks his phone as he’s carefully climbing the stairs, his mail tucked under his chin and his keys jangling off his pinky while he reads.

Dear Noah-

I’m sorry you’re having to deal with kinky vampires because of me, but I do thank you for keeping me from your boss’ clutches.  He sounds like a real winner.

I honestly have no idea what to say about any of your revelations, other than at least the flirting wasn’t in my head?

Thank you for telling me about your daughter.

Families can be so complicated, sometimes.  I have a stepmother and stepbrother back home, but I don’t see them very often.  I don’t go home a lot.

And just so you’re aware, my boyfriend and I broke up at the end of June.  We’d been together since high school and . . . well.  That’s a long and complicated story that involves not just my love life but also my writing and, to some extent, my family as well.  Not a good story for telling over email, in any case.

I really should head inside and try to get some sleep.  It’s getting colder here at night, now.

-Kurt

Noah wonders where Kurt is staying, because the city is still so hot all the time, and he feels like he’s suffocating a lot of the time, closed in by the crowds and the buildings.  He drops his bag inside the door, and kicks off his shoes, shuffles over to the couch and flops down without turning on the lights.  He flips his phone open and types a response, fast and frantic with his thumbs, and damn any spelling mistakes.

Kurt-

Where are you for the summer?  New York is deep in the dog days, and it sucks.  At least in LA I could escape to the beach.  Here, I’m just trapped.

Yeah, families are complicated.  My dad took off when I was a kid, and it’s just me and my mom and my little sister, Sarah.  She graduated from college in May, and she’s starting grad school in San Francisco next month.  Of course she’s pissed at me, because she picked California over New York because I was still in LA then, and now I’ve bailed on her.  Oh, well, I’m sure she’ll get over it.

Maybe someday I can buy you coffee and you can tell me your story?

How’s the writing going?

-Noah

He leans his head against the back of the couch and closes his eyes, listens to the city echoing outside his window.  He’s barely on the edge of sleep when his phone chimes again.

I’m on Cape Cod, and the writing is slow.

You really don’t want to hear my story, trust me.

Goodnight, Noah.

Fuck.

Noah knows when he’s getting a brush off, and Kurt seems to be a master.

He’s not put off, though, and he’ll try again in the morning.

**

Kurt has no idea what he was thinking, sharing so much with Noah.  His trust isn’t something he gives lightly, and he’s pretty much just handed it all to a stranger.  He wishes he could pull it back, but it’s too late now, so he shuts Noah down, gives him a perfunctory response.  He doesn’t know how to be around new people, how to have a connection with someone who doesn’t know all the hidden parts of his past and who won’t treat him like he’s going to break from breathing.

It all feels out of control and he’s surprisingly afraid.

He stares at his laptop in the dark of the loft, keeps refreshing his email for half an hour, but no reply comes.

He hopes he hasn’t completely ruined whatever has been happening with Noah.

He sleeps fitfully, wakes when it’s still dark out.  The air is deliciously cool through the windows of the loft, and he wraps himself tighter under his blankets to check his email.

There’s only one, and it’s from Noah, time stamped barely fifteen minutes earlier.

Kurt-

I know some of your story.  At least, as much of it as google would tell me, which admittedly isn’t much at all.

I hope I didn’t push you too hard; that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid.

I really suck at being close to people.  My counselor in high school always told me I had abandonment issues or some shit like that.  When someone gets under my skin even a little bit, I usually disappear, or push them away.  So I’m sorry, for doing that to you.  You don’t deserve it.

I’ve heard that Cape Cod is pretty.  What will you do after the summer?

-Noah

Kurt sighs.  Of course he’d attract someone with issues, because his own apparently aren’t enough to deal with.

But he admires Noah’s honesty.

He taps reply, and just writes.

I suspect that a therapist would have a field day with me.  If you got any hits on google, then I suspect you know that I’m an orphan.  I mean, I have Carole and Finn, but the four of us were a family for so short a time before.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to be with them, because it hurts too much to remember all of us being happy together.

You didn’t push too hard.  I hide too.  That’s kind of my M.O., and my ex was really good at protecting me.  I guess I just let him, because we were still kids, really, when we got to the city, and I was . . . well.  I wasn’t in a place to do any real decision-making, so he did it all.  And now here I am.  30 and a complete mess, and I have no clue where to go from here.

My friends have been incredibly generous.  T and M are going back to Boston next week, but I’m going to keep the house for September.  It’s really lovely here.  Sometimes I feel like I could step off the edge of the world.  I’m hoping that maybe once the summer craziness is over I’ll be able to settle down and focus on writing something.  Anything.  Right now it’s all just fragments of things all jumbled together.

Someday I would like to have that coffee with you, and maybe we could both share our stories?

-Kurt

He sets his computer next to him and rolls up onto his side.  He opens his word document and pretends to read the random pieces of thoughts that he keeps adding to it, but he’s really waiting for Noah to respond.

He gets a short, simple reply from what must be Noah’s personal email, since it doesn’t have the newdirectionspub.org extension.

Why are you awake in the middle of the night?  And do you ever do webchat?

Kurt grins and sends right back I could ask you the same thing, and I haven’t used webchat since high school.

But then there’s a flashing window at the bottom of his screen, and what feels like a tentative hi.

His fingers feel awkward, and they fumble on the keys.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

Blinking back at him in half a heartbeat, neither do I.

Why do you care so much?

He breathes, waiting.  I don’t know.  You feel . . . special.  And I think I’d be missing out if I didn’t try to get to know you.

He’s shaking and he doesn’t know why. He closes his eyes, opens them and stares at the screen, at his blinking cursor in that damn little box.  It would be so easy to just shut it down, hide away.  Run.  Keep running, the same way he always has when things are big and bad and hard and scary.

But if he doesn’t want to be that sheltered guy anymore, then he has to start moving forward instead of being stuck.

He doesn’t realize how long he’s been sitting there, staring at the screen, until Noah’s typed something else.  He blinks, and the words are blurry. Are you okay?  Still there?

Yeah, he responds.  Still here.  Just thinking.

That can be dangerous, Noah sends, and Kurt has to bite back a snort of laughter because he doesn’t want to wake Tina and Mike.

Funny.  Just- I really don’t have any idea what I’m doing, but I know I need to change some things in my life, or I’m always going to this scared little boy who doesn’t know how to live.

Do you want me to back off?

It’s a loaded question, and Kurt somehow knows that he could say yes and Noah would go back to simply a professional contact.  But Kurt isn’t sure he wants that.  It feels exciting, to have someone who might be interested in him, but it is also unknown, and it feels . . . risky.

No, he finally types, and hits enter before he can take it back.  But I don’t think I can do this, online like this.

Okay, Noah sends.  Is it too forward to ask if I can come up there and meet you?

Kurt’s heart is racing, but it’s not a bad feeling at all and that’s its own kind of surprising.  Not too forward.  T and M leave on Friday morning.

I’ll drive up, be there Friday night.  I’ll get a room in town, if you tell me what town you’re actually in because I hear there are a lot of them on Cape Cod.

Kurt smiles, and feels like teasing.  Someone’s not as good a detective as he thinks.  I gave you a big clue.  I’m at the edge of the world.  Provincetown.

Cool.  Email me with how to find you when I get there?

Kurt shakes his head, wonders what the hell he’s just gotten himself into.  Oh, well.  There’s no going back now.  I’ll send it now.  You should go back to sleep.

You should, too.  Thank you.

For what?

For not running on me.

Kurt huffs at the little curl of hair that’s tickling his forehead and grins in spite of himself.  Just because I’m not running right now doesn’t mean that I won’t run at some point later.

Will it help if I promise to try not to run, either?

Kurt thinks of the little tidbits that Noah has given him over the past day, about how he isn’t good at being close to people.  Noah is trusting him, here, and Kurt knows that he has to trust Noah in the same way.  Yes, he finally says.  That would help.

Good blinks back at him in seconds.  Try to go back to sleep?

I will, Kurt writes, and then closes the chat window.  He sends off a quick email with driving directions, and closes his laptop.  He doesn’t go back to sleep, but he does just lay in bed listening to the ocean and watching the sky lighten.  He stays still and quiet until he hears the whispering movement of Mike in the kitchen toasting bagels and making coffee.

“Hey,” he says, padding softly down the stairs.  “T still asleep?”

“Yeah,” Mike replies, looking up from the tub of cream cheese.  “She ended up writing late.  You want plain or cinnamon raisin?”  He nods at the bags of bagels on the counter.

“Cinnamon raisin, but I can do that,” he offers.

Mike shakes his head.  “You didn’t sleep much.  Let me.”

Kurt squints at Mike.  “How did you know?”

“I heard you typing.  Anything good?”

Kurt shrugs.  “It wasn’t anything.  Just talking with that editor.”

“Oh, the flirty one?”  Mike sticks Kurt’s bagel in the toaster and then pours him a large mug of coffee.

“Tina told you,” Kurt says, blushing, as he takes his coffee.

“She thought it was cute, and harmless.  And really, man.  You need a little of that in your life.  You deserve a little of that.”

“It’s not- I mean, it’s nothing, really.”  He pretends to be distracted by the toaster and the work of spreading cream cheese precisely onto his bagel.

“Uh huh,” Mike mutters around chewing and swallowing.  He’s leaning against the counter with one hip, eyeing Kurt in a way that makes him squirm a little.  “He who protests the loudest . . .”

Kurt wants to say that it’s seriously nothing, but something entirely different tumbles out of his mouth instead.  “He’s going to come up, at the end of the week.”

Mike sets his plate in the sink and rubs his hands together.  “Will we get to meet him?  I mean, Tina already approves, but I’d love to-”

Kurt stalks past him, holding his too-full coffee mug carefully to avoid spilling on his bare feet.  “He’ll be here after you guys leave.”  He hates feeling irritated with Mike; it’s neither of their faults that Kurt feels paper-thin and unsure.  “I’m sorry,” he says finally.  “I don’t mean to be short with you.  I don’t even know what’s going on, really.  I feel so stupid.”

“C’mon,” Mike nods toward the slider.  “Let’s go outside.  Don’t wanna wake Tina up.”

Kurt follows him out onto the deck, and he shivers a little at the cool and damp.  The ocean is dark, steely gray, and the pink of the early morning has given way to clouds.  “Storm’s coming in,” he says into the air.

“Nothing to worry about.”  Mike folds his frame into the chair next to Kurt.  “What’s got you all worked up?  And don’t tell me nothing.”

Kurt laughs in spite of himself and curls in on himself a little bit, more to keep warm than out of any kind of self-preservation measure.  “I’ve only ever been with Blaine.  I don’t know how to do any of this.  Dating.  Flirting.  I feel like I’m still in high school.”

Mike spreads his arms in front of himself with a chuckle.  “I can’t help you there, man.  Did you know Tina was my first girlfriend?  I mean, unless you count the time I kissed Susie Zhang behind the boathouse at Asian Camp, but we were ten so I kind of don’t”

“I don’t know that I need help, I guess I just need to know that it’s normal to feel this way?  I mean, Blaine and I really grew up together.”  Too young, too early, he thinks to himself, neither of them prepared for what life had thrown at them.  He sometimes wonders if all of that was what led them to stay together long after they should have, because in reality neither of them had been able to stand on their own, back then.

“Tina and I, too, but-” Mike cuts himself off, and shakes his head.  “It’s really not my business.”

“You’ve spent the summer picking up my life.  I think it’s definitely at least partly your business.”

Mike sighs.  “Okay,” he says, chewing on bottom lip with his teeth.  “You had to grow up incredibly fast.  I mean, you were practically an adult at 16, but with everything- I mean, yeah, I could understand that.  But Blaine, it’s like he decided that it was his job and his alone to take care of you.  Did you know that the first spring you were in the city, I tried calling a bunch of times, but Blaine always told me that you weren’t in any shape to talk.”

“I really wasn’t,” Kurt says, and it’s the truth because he was just cold and numb then, probably depressed but he hadn’t had the words for that, at 18.  “But he never told me that you even called.”

“Yeah.  That’s the point.  I don’t think he wanted anyone else to take care of you, because it made him feel important, being the only one who could do that for you.”

Kurt lets Mike’s words settle over him.  He’s thought the same thing himself before, but none of the other people in his life have ever said it out loud before.  “Everyone else thinks that too, don’t they?”

Mike’s expression is cautious, but he nods slowly.  “Yeah.  I think we were all a little afraid to say anything, because we didn’t want Blaine to keep you from seeing us.”

“People really thought he would have done something like that?  Kept me from seeing my friends?”  Kurt has to ask, even though he kind of knows, because he’s been thinking about similar things all summer, except it’s been about Blaine’s control of his career and not their personal life.

“Tina and I, and Joe and Sam and Unique.  We’ve all been worried about you for too long, and I won’t say that I’m not happy that you’re free from that now.”

Kurt shakes his head to clear the fuzz away.  “I honestly thought that he was helping.  It’s only been since Christmas that I really started thinking about it, and realizing that maybe he wasn’t helping.  Or at least not for genuine reasons.”

“I guess you’ll never know, but I’ll just say that I’m happy you’re starting to do better.”  Mike rests a hand on Kurt’s shoulder, and Kurt thinks that even when he first came out, Mike had always been willing to look beyond Kurt being gay.

“Thanks,” Kurt says.  “I have a long way to go.  I think I’m sort of stunted at eighteen right now.”

“So,” Mike says, taking a sip of his coffee.  “Not to blatantly change the subject or anything, but tell me about this editor guy.  All Tina told me was that he’s flirty with you, and that he wants to publish your book.”

“My nonexistent book.  And I guess he is flirty, and he- well.  He’s playing the bad guy with his boss to keep me from getting steamrolled, is the impression I get.”

Mike nods.  “Honorable, then.”

“I have no idea about that.”

“But he’s being cautious, right?  Then that means he’s not in it solely to get in your pants.”

Kurt splutters, and feels his ears redning.  “It’s not- Mike!  It’s not like that.”

“So you have a little crush too, then?”

Kurt closes his eyes, tries to ignore the heat in his face.  “Maybe.  Maybe just a tiny one, because he seems like he knows where I’m coming from and he hasn’t had it easy, either.”

“So he knows, then.  About-”

“My dad, yeah.”  Only Noah doesn’t know everything, but nobody knows everything, not even Blaine.  Kurt is the only one left who knows precisely what happened that day.

“Just-” Mike sighs, settles back into his chair, his gaze heavy and hard and leveled right at Kurt’s face.  “Just be careful, okay?  I’d hate for you to get hurt again.”

“I know,” Kurt says, and there are unexpected tears in his eyes.  “I’d hate that, too.”

**

Noah fills out his vacation request for Friday and Monday first thing, and drops it on Will’s desk with a little flourish.

“Long weekend, huh?  Why not wait until Labor Day?”  Will holds the paper by a corner, lets it float between his thumb and forefinger like something slightly distasteful.

“I need the time this weekend.  I haven’t taken a day since I started, please don’t give me shit about this.”

“Where’re you headed?”

“None of your business,” Noah grinds out, and he tries not to be mean about it but he kind of can’t help it.

“Hot date?”  Will is persistent as fuck, and it’s starting to piss Noah off.

“Also none of your business,” he says, turning on his heel and muttering an added asshole under his breath.  “I’ll be in my office with my newest batch of manuscripts.  Let me know when you approve my request so I can make the rest of my arrangements.”

“Noah-” he can hear Will calling after him, but he’s already around the corner and he pretends not to hear anything at all.  He needs to keep Will’s hands out of all of this, and whether that’s for his own benefit or Kurt’s, he really doesn’t know anymore.

He’s completely entranced in a sweet YA coming out story, one of the best things he’s read from the unsolicited files, when there’s a knock at his door.  He doesn’t look up from his reading, merely waves whoever is there in, and he’s slightly startled when something falls into his field of vision.

“Will,” he says, taking his vacation request with Will’s signature scrawled on the approved by line without raising his eyes.  “Thank you.”

“You’re going to see Hummel, aren’t you?”

“I’ll say it again, none of your business.”  He rubs absently between his eyes; Will is giving him a headache.

“You’re getting too involved here.  Do I need to take this away from you?  I could have closed the deal myself weeks ago.”

Noah snaps his head up and glares at Will.  “Don’t you dare,” he hisses.  “I’ve been working on this all summer, and I’m so close.”  Too close, he knows, because he’s playing Will just as hard as Will is playing him, and it’s edgy and a little scary, but he knows he needs to honor his promises to Kurt.

Will laughs a little, so softly that Noah wouldn’t have heard it at all if he hadn’t been listening so hard.  “I thought it was like that.”

“Like what?”

“I knew weeks ago, that you’ve got something for this guy.  You don’t even know him, Noah.”  Will’s eyes are clouded with something, and at first Noah thinks that maybe it’s disapproval, but when he looks closer and studies the way Will is standing, defensive and protective at the same time, he sees it.

It’s suddenly crystal clear, from Will’s slightly off-color demeanor and his constant attention to his seeming obsession with Kurt.  “All this time, I thought he was the one you were chasing, but it’s me, isn’t it?  I’m the one you have a hard-on for, and it’s absolutely killing you that I might prefer somebody else.”

Will splutters and denies it, of course he does, his hands working in front of his body as if to wave Noah’s accusation away even as he backs rapidly out into the hall.  Right before he turns to walk away, he stares at Noah.  His eyes are black and hard, and his words are fear masked with bravado.  “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, I think I do.”  Because he’s more sure of this, now, than he is about anything that might happen over the weekend on the Cape.

“I’ll deny it,” Will whispers, still retreating, and he’s gone by the time Noah is shaking his head, wondering aloud who would believe me if I told them?

He leaves early again, pretty sure that he could get away with just about anything right now if it means that Will can avoid being fodder for the office gossip mill.  Emily is working her usual Monday shift at the coffeehouse, and she brings him his mocha instead of making him wait at the counter for it.  She nods at the printer pages in his hand.

“Something good?”

“Actually, yeah.”  He tips the pages toward her.  “It’s a YA novel, about three boys in the midwest.  It starts as a love triangle, but becomes a triad.”

“Interesting,” Emily says with a nod.  “Isn’t polyamory a little risqué for the high school crowd?”

“Maybe,” Noah says with a shrug.  “But it’s the identity struggle, and the coming out, and the idea of these boys learning how to be with each other.  It’s really sweet.  It’s the kind of thing I wish I’d had to read when I was that age.  Maybe then I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to knock up my girlfriend when we were sixteen.”  It’s the first time he’s told Emily anything about his past, the first time in a long time that he’s mentioned Quinn and Beth at all except for the other night with Kurt, but that had been in the security of a chat, and not actually out loud.

“I didn’t know you have a daughter,” Emily says with aplomb.  “Do you have any pictures?”

“She lives in Chicago with her adoptive mother.”  He flips through his phone for a picture of the two of them in May, when he’d stopped in Chicago on his way through to New York.  They’re at Wrigley Field, Beth decked out in Noah’s old Starlin Castro jersey, her curls escaping from under a blue Cubs cap.  “This is Beth,” he says, handing the phone to Emily.

“She’s lovely,” Emily says with a genuine smile.  “She looks like you.”

“Now she does,” he says, and flips back through his gallery for one when she was younger.  He finds it near the end of his pictures, Beth’s third Halloween, and she’s in a sparkly purple dress holding a beribboned wand.  And her hair is still blonde like Quinn’s.  “She’s three here.  Her birth mom is blonde and fair, and I thought, maybe Beth would take after her.  I guess she grew out of it.”

Emily nods.  “I was like that, too.  It happens.  My sister was a redhead until she got to be about five.  Do you talk to your ex at all?”

Noah shakes his head.  “Not in years.  I ran into her once, back when I first got to LA.  She was at Stanford, then.  I have no idea where she is now.  It’s probably better that way.”

“She doesn’t know you’re gay.”

Noah snorts.  “No.  Though, I think maybe she suspected, the last time I saw her.  I was working at a gay coffeeshop in West Hollywood, but she always was a little oblivious, so.  I don’t know.”

The bell over the door jangles, and draws Emily back to the counter, where she stays busy for awhile and Noah goes back to his manuscript.  He’s deep into what has to be the most pivotal scene in the book, when one of the boys comes out to his parents not just about being gay but also about his boyfriends, when he feels Emily skirting by him.  She sets another mocha on the table next to him.

On the house,” she whispers.”

“Thanks, but please let me pay for it.”  He reaches into his pocket for his cash, but she stills him with a hand on his arm and a shake of his head.

“You’re my favorite customer.  You keep my afternoons interesting.”  She keeps walking, her eyes on a crumpled napkin on the floor.

“Hey, Em?”  She stoops, picks up the napkin, and turns to look at him.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.  Guess who I’m meeting this weekend?”

She cocks her head to the side.  “Elton John.”

“Nope.  Try again.”

“Billy Joel.”

“Uh-uh.  One last guess.”

“You’ve found the ghost of JD Salinger and he’s agreed to give you an interview.”

“Funny, but no.  Oddly enough, you’re pretty warm with that one.”  He can see the wheels turning in her head, and her eyes brighten when she makes the connection.

“Oh!” she gasps.  “No shit?”  She drops into the chair across from him.  “You’re really going to meet Kurt Hummel?”

“Yeah.  I’m really going to.”  His heart beats double time at the thought, and he smiles.  “It could be . . . um.  Kind of a big deal.”

He hates himself, because he can feel an embarrassed blush crawling up his neck.  He tries to shake it off, but Emily sees that, too, and she smacks his hand so gently that he almost doesn’t feel it.

“You like him,” she teases like they’re back in middle school, and Noah suddenly feels too old for all of this.

“Yeah,”  He ducks his head, because there’s nothing else to say about that.

“Okay,” Emily replies with a nod.  “You’ll tell me all about it when you get back, right?”

“Of course,” he promises, and he knows that he will.  Emily’s the closest thing he has to a friend in this city, and he thinks that maybe he’ll need a friend to talk to come Tuesday.

**

Kurt’s in his usual spot on the deck when the front door slams and Mike is calling into the house.  Kurt looks up, startled from his trance, to realize that he’s actually written three pages since lunch.  He has no idea whether they’re coherent or good or anything, but there are words on the page in actual sentences.  He’s still pondering his work when Tina flings the slider open with a harsher squeal than usual.

“C’mon, get dressed in something decent, we’re going into town to celebrate.”

“You finished your thesis?”  He grins at her and closes his laptop, tucks it under his arm and starts toward the house.

“No, Mike got a job!”  Tina’s ginning, and when he gets into the living room he sees that Mike is bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Kurt crosses the room and grabs Mike in a one-armed hug.  “That’s great, Mike.  I can’t wait to hear all about it!”

Mike waves him off.  “It’s nothing, really.  It’s with this small company, I met them when I was out at Jacob’s Pillow with the school troupe.  They’re down in Providence, and they do a lot of outreach in the community there.  There’s a school, so part of being in the company includes teaching, and I won’t have to choose between performing and choreography.”

“Oh, that’s excellent,” Kurt says, moving toward the stairs.  “Let me go change, and we can go out.”

**

They end up at The Patio, because Mike swears up and down that one of the dancers in his workshop told him that they make the best cocktails, and none of them have indulged in anything much at all the whole summer.  They sit outside so they can people watch, and agree on three different mojitos to share, and some spinach artichoke dip to stave off early drunkenness while they peruse the rest of the menu.

Kurt alternates sips of black raspberry and pineapple mojito and listens to Mike talk about his new company.  He’s excited for Mike, and for Tina too, and he wonders what will happen once she’s finished with her Master’s, whether she’ll join Mike in Providence or what.

“You guys’ll be a little closer to me, now,” he says, scooping dip onto a chip and closing his menu.

“Oh, yeah, a whole hour,” Tina teases.  “Assuming you’re going back to the city.”

“Where else would I go?”  Kurt asks, but he knows that Tina has a point.  He and Blaine ended up in New York because of Blaine, and while parts of it feel like his city other parts of it feel foreign.  This is the perfect opportunity to make a real new start for himself.

Tina sweeps her gaze over the street, at the shops and the tourists.  “You seem to be settled and happy here.  Have you thought about staying?”

“For the winter?”  Kurt’s voice squeaks indelicately, and he covers it with a cough.  “I don’t know about that, T.”

“Why not?  It’s quiet here, you could write without being bothered, get yourself to a place where you can make a real decision about everything, not just a knee-jerk one.

“The house isn’t suitable for winter.”  It’s a weak argument, and they all know it, but Kurt is interrupted by the waitress who clears their appetizer plates and waits patiently after Kurt orders lobster pesto and Mike orders chicken scallopini for Tina to decide between lobster mac and cheese and crab cakes.

"You should make sure to save room for dessert,” the girl tells them after Tina settles on the Lobster Mac.  “The Key lime cheesecake is killer, and the pastry chef has a dark chocolate layer cake that is absolutely to die for.”

“We can always get dessert to go,” Tina says, and the waitress nods with a grin, heading inside to put in their order.  Once she’s gone, Tina knocks Kurt’s leg with her knee.  “You’re an idiot.  There are winter rentals here.  If you seriously think you might want to stay, we’ll call the leasing agent tomorrow.”

It hits Kurt suddenly that Tina has a point.  “I don’t even have an apartment in the city anymore, at least as far as I know.”  Because Blaine hasn’t been in touch at all, and Kurt hasn’t made the effort to contact him either.

“Then take the chance.  Stay here.  It could be good for you.”

Kurt knows that Tina is right, but a tiny hopeful part of his heart is telling him that Noah is in New York and he doesn’t want to blow that chance with distance before anything even gets started.  But who is he kidding, really.  It’s already started, and he’s pretty sure that stopping it isn’t an option at this point.

“Okay,” he finally says.  It’s a decision, a real one, something that’s his own, and it feels good.  “I think staying here for the winter is a good idea.”

Tina smiles at him through the growing dusk, and he sips his mojito and thinks that he’s awfully lucky to have friends like her and Mike.

They have another round before their entreés and Kurt is pretty tipsy from his second pineapple mojito.  Tina drinks half of her black raspberry before handing it over to Kurt.  “It’s too strong, I can’t,” she exclaims, so Kurt sips at it.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you guys were trying to get me drunk,” he says, chugging half his water glass to try to counteract the alcohol.  “You better be careful or someone will have to carry me back to the house.”

“Maybe if you drink enough you’ll tell me about the boy who’s coming to visit.”

Kurt shakes his head.  “When none of us are halfway to drunk,” he says in a whisper, because Noah feels . . . precious to him, somehow, and worth much more than a drunken gossip session.  “And he’s not a boy.”

“The editor,” Tina says with surety as the waitress appears, setting a second bread basket in the middle of the table before placing their plates in front of them.  Kurt can smell the basil in his pesto, and the sauce has cream in it too, and it looks amazing.  He spears a chunk of lobster on his fork before the waitress is even gone, swirls it through some of the sauce, and pops it into his mouth.

“Oh, god, that’s good.”  He closes his eyes around the buttery lobster and creamy sauce and sighs.  “Forget carrying me home.  I’m going to eat every bite and you’re both going to have to roll  me home.”

The waitress grins at him.  “You’re cute,” she says, and Kurt cocks his head at her.

“I’m gay,” he says, deadpan, and she giggles at him and pats him on his shoulder.

“Please, honey, I know that.  You’re still cute.  I’ll let the chef know you like the pesto.  He might comp you dessert because he definitely likes cute gay boys.”

“I don’t have to put out for the chocolate cake, do I?”  He winks at her, half serious and half joking.

“Oh, no,” she says with a wink of her own.  “Teddy isn’t that kind of a boy.  Enjoy your dinner, and I’ll be back to check on you and take your dessert order in a bit.”

Tina is staring at him, a forkful of mac and cheese halfway to her mouth.  “Who are you, and what have you done with Kurt?  I’ve never seen you flirty like that!”

Kurt twirls some fettucini and nabs another piece of lobster.  “Evil mojitos,” he tells her, but he knows that’s not even half of it.  Every day he’s uncovering little pieces of himself that haven’t seen daylight in over a decade, and he wants to try them out to see what still fits anymore.

He enjoyed the teasing with the waitress, so he thinks that his flirty, slightly snarky inner queen needs to stay.

**

The chef does indeed comp all three of them dessert, and they walk slowly through town and back to the house clutching their to-go boxes, Mike and Tina with the key lime cheesecake and Kurt with the chocolate cake and the chef’s number scrawled in sharpie on the outside of the box.

He knows that he won’t call, and he can’t feel bad about that.

He puts his cake in the fridge, because he really is still stuffed from dinner, and he makes his excuses to Tina and Mike.  “I’m about to fall over,” he says from halfway up the stairs to his loft.  “But it was a great night, thank you.”

Mike has his arm around Tina, and they’re both a little flushed and smiling, and the whole house feels peaceful.  “‘Night,” Tina says softly, and offers Kurt a little wave.  He waggles three fingers back at her, and retreats the rest of the way upstairs, sated and happy and feeling like maybe he’s finally starting to get back to himself.

**

Noah’s week is unexpectedly peaceful.  Will seems to be avoiding him, so he’s able to bury himself in work.  He finishes the YA manuscript, which he puts in his yes box with a giant pink sticky note on the front that says definitely get this in print ASAP.  An important story, excellent writing.  Cross-market as YA and adult, because of content.

He rejects one gay male and one lesbian romance each, and then picks up a mystery set in Chicago that looks interesting, partly because it’s where Beth is, if he’s being honest, and chances are that if he hadn’t gotten the job with New Directions he would have ended up in Chicago to be closer to her.

The writing is pretty solid, and the premise isn’t hokey, which mostly means that Noah hasn’t figured it out by the middle of the third chapter.  But as he reads, he realizes that it’s not a traditional mystery.  There’s some romance, the characters are well-drawn, and the author has a good sense of place.  He needs to finish it, but he’s pretty sure that it will join the YA book in his yes box, and that is satisfying because all summer it’s been no after no after no, and that gets really old.

He ends up staying up until the middle of the night on Wednesday morning to finish the mystery, and when he gets to the office there’s a manuscript sitting on his desk with a yellow sticky note.

Noah, I was opening the mail yesterday and this came in.  I know they usually go to Will first, but he’s out of the office today and I think somebody with more clout than I have needs to read it.  Thanks, Jade

He smiles and flips to the first summary page.  Jade is the intern, and Will makes her open and deliver the mail, which Noah thinks is lousy because she’s supposed to be learning about publishing and she hardly ever sees anything outside of the mail room and all those damn unsolicited manuscripts.  But she has a good eye, and Noah thinks that if he ever does warrant an assistant he wants to offer the job to Jade first..

It’s another YA, this one a lesbian story, and it’s gritty and dark in a way that Noah hasn’t read before, not when the characters are two high school girls.  He spends his entire day with it, eats lunch at his desk, and reads until the office is silent and dim around him.  It’s another yes, another book that leaves him gutted, and even though he doesn’t know how many books like that he can read without breaking, he seems to have a constant hunger for more.  He heads down to the mail room, to where Jade files the manuscripts she opens, all of them in one big Postal Service plastic bin.  He dumps them all out onto the floor and reads the summaries on each, until he has a small stack of things that he’s pretty sure will eviscerate him and make him breathless and make him feel, and for the first time since he got to New York at Memorial Day he feels like he’s actually doing his job and doing it well.

Better yet, he’s enjoying his job, and he remembers why he wanted to make this move in the first place.

Thursday he spends the morning in the office and the afternoon “working” from home, which really involves reading from his self-selected stack, doing laundry, and calling to make arrangements for the rental car.  He’s a little antsy because he hasn’t heard from Kurt all week, but he figures he’s been busy with his friends and he doesn’t want to intrude.

He’s just getting ready to go to bed when his phone chimes.  Will hasn’t emailed him in days either, so he has to look.

Noah-

It’s been a busy week, getting T and M ready to head home in the morning.  M got news about a job the other day, so we had a nice dinner in town.

 

I’ve been writing.  I don’t know how good it is, but it’s words on the page, and that’s a start.  I’ve made some decisions about the next few months, as well.  I’m going to stay here, in Provincetown for the winter.  T’s leasing agent came through in a big way, with a sweet two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a house in town.  It’s small but cozy, and I think it will be a good place to work on the book and get myself together.

I’m nervous and excited to meet you tomorrow.  I’m guessing you’ll be here sometime late afternoon, so why don’t you get checked into your hotel and then meet me in town at the Wired Puppy.  They have good coffee and baked goods, and then maybe we can have dinner?  See how things go?  At the very least, we can talk about books.

Drive safely.

-Kurt

Noah takes his phone back to bed and responds from his nest of blankets.

Kurt-

Your plan for tomorrow sounds perfect.

I’m glad you’re finally writing.  That’s a big deal, and is it too much or too forward for me to say that I’m proud of you?  Not only for the writing, but also for finding a place that feels good, for you to do some healing.  I didn’t think I needed it, but it turns out that New York and work are turning out to be places like that for me.

I’ve had an oddly good week.  I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of things here, and I’ve found some very good books.  None of them are like yours, but they’ve all left me changed and aching and satisfied.  If you can’t tell, I like to be deeply affected by books, so hitting my stride at work is a really good thing.

I’m all packed, and I’m picking up the rental car as soon as the place opens.

See you soon.

-Noah

He drops into a restless sleep, and dreams fitfully of sand and unfamiliar roads, and the smell of the ocean.

**

Kurt wakes early, helps Tina and Mike pack their car.  He tucks his laptop into his messenger bag, and the three of them go into town for a late breakfast before they get on the road.  Traffic is still creeping into town, not nearly as heavy as it will be for Labor Day the following weekend, but heavy enough.  Kurt doesn’t feel like a tourist anymore, even though he’s barely ventured from the house all summer.  It’s more the pace and rhythm of the place that he can feel in his bones, and it feels like belonging and the faint and distant tang of home, and it’s good.

They have breakfast at Cafe Heaven, and Kurt hugs Tina hard, whispers through her hair that he loves her, and he thanks her for rescuing him when he had nowhere else to go.  Then he hugs Mike, thanks him for his quiet strength and his level head, and wishes him luck in his new job.

“The winter place has a guest room, so I expect visitors,” he says once they’re the car, windows down and the radio palying softly, Tina already singing along to Norah Jones.  Tina nods, and Kurt waits for their tail-lights to fade as they drive away.  Once he can’t see them anymore, he heads up the street to the Wired Puppy.

He sets up in the back, a large chai and a peach-raspberry muffin to tide him over until early afternoon, when he’ll have a second chai and another pastry.

He has words, lots of them, ready to let go.

He writes all day, his focus intense, and it feels freeing.  For the first time in two years, writing doesn’t feel like a burden, and he’s smiling to himself despite the harshness of the scene he’s working on, when a shadow falls over his table.

He looks up into chocolate brown eyes and close-cropped brown curls, khaki shorts and a heathered marroon t-shirt.  “Noah,” he sighs, and blinks.  Feels, oddly, an instant sense of peace, and isn’t that weird.

“Hey,” Noah whispers, and sets a cup of his own on the table.  “This seat taken?”

**

Noah feels like he’s back in senior year, that first time he went to that all ages club in Dayton.  He’s nervous and shy, and he wants so badly to make a good first impression that he doesn’t even order a pastry because he doesn’t want to make a mess with crumbs all over his shirt.

There’s only one person in the shop who could possibly be Kurt, tucked away in the back behind a laptop, an empty plate with crumbs and a crumpled muffin wrapper and a cup of something next to him, slightly toussled chestnut hair and eyes squinty behind black-framed glasses.

He moves over to the table slowly, quiet.  “Hey,” he whispers, because he doesn’t trust his voice.  Releases his cup from his shaking hand onto the security of the table.  “This seat taken?”

Kurt smiles at him, and Noah sits.  He’s having trouble organizing his thoughts, so he grabs onto the first thread of connection that existed between them.  “You’re writing.”

“Like a madman,” Kurt says, and he angles his laptop so that Noah can see.

“What flipped the switch?” 

Kurt shrugs, smiles gently.  “Nothing, or maybe everything.  Talking with you, making some decisions completely for myself for the first time since I was 18.  Letting go.”

The instinct is strong and Noah can’t fight it.  He rests his hand on the table, palm up and fingers relaxed.  Kurt stares at him, seemingly taken aback, but Noah nods slowly and Kurt cautiously slides his hand over Noah’s.  “Letting go of what?” he asks, because there is so much that he doesn’t know about Kurt, so much they don’t know about each other at all.  He wants to know, feels desperate for it, so he knows he’ll just keep asking and talking until everything between them is shared.

“All the things that nobody knows.”  Kurt’s words are so soft that he can barely hear them..

He curls his fingers around Kurt’s hand and squeezes.  “Do you want to go somewhere else, where we can talk?”

Kurt swallows visibly and nods.  “Please?”

“You got it.”  He takes Kurt’s plate and cup, tosses the empty cup in the trash and sets the plate on the counter labeled “dish return”.  When he turns back to the table, Kurt is standing, his messenger bag slung across his chest. 

“I’m assuming you walked?  Because I walked, and if it’s not too forward maybe you’d like to come back to the house?”

“I walked.  I’m at a B&B a couple of blocks over.”  It hadn’t made sense to even try to find street parking, and he’s gotten used to walking in the city.  “I’d love to see the house, but only if that’s something you want.”

Kurt stops halfway out the door and glares at Noah.  “Let’s get something straight right off,” he says, and Noah knows immediately that he’s said or done something wrong.  “I might be kind of a mess, but I’m not going to shatter.  I don’t need protecting, I just need to fucking live my life, and that includes trying things and making mistakes, okay?”

“Okay,” Noah says with a light nod and a gentle hand at the small of Kurt’s back, and maybe it’s too much too soon, but he’s just going with his gut here; it’s just about the only thing he trusts.

He’s not sure Kurt even realizes that he leans back a little against the pressure of Noah’s hand, and that makes him smile.  He waits until they’re fully out onto the sidewalk, Kurt a step ahead of him leading him through the streets, before he apologizes.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything, other than I’m practically a stranger and I didn’t want you to feel like you had to invite me over.”

Kurt scoffs at him.  “Part of learning how to live my life is knowing that I don’t have to do anything.  I want you to come home with me.”

“Okay,” Noah says again, and he feels like a damn parrot.  He doesn’t say anything else as they walk, just sort of drinks everything in.  They quickly leave the heart of town behind, and follow a narrow stretch of road to a squat house with weathered wood shingles.  He waits while Kurt unlocks the front door, and then they’re inside.

“It’s not much,” Kurt says like he might be ashamed.  “My winter place starts in October, and it’s a lot nicer.  But this was a good stopping place for the summer, and it was practically free for Tina and Mike, so.  None of us complained.”

“It’s cozy,” Noah says, and he follows Kurt through the small living room to the sliding glass door that leads to the deck and the beach.

“This is where I spent most of my summer,” Kurt gestures to the deck.  “Tina was writing her thesis, which I thought was funny because it’s about why women write gay male porn.  So she spent her days on the couch, and Mike was teaching, and-”

Noah can’t help it, Kurt is so nervous and sweet, and he would listen to him babble all day long, but the urge to kiss him is so strong.  “Hey,” he takes Kurt’s hand.  “Shhh,” he whispers, and leans in, presses his lips gently to Kurt’s. 

He fully expects Kurt to pull away, but he doesn’t.  He also doesn’t deepen the kiss at all, just keeps his lips still under Noah’s, and Noah feels more than hears him sigh softly. 

“How can you be sure about this?”  Kurt asks, soft and low and shaky.

“I’m not,” Noah admits.  “I’m just going by instinct here.”

“Your instincts are good,” Kurt replies, and Noah can feel him kind of clinging.

Noah wraps his arms around Kurt, just holds him tight  “I’m not expecting anything, you know that right?” he asks, because he needs to be clear for himself regardless of what Kurt needs.

Kurt nods, silent.  “I know,” he finally says.  “I meant it, the other night, when I said I have no idea what I’m doing.  I don’t know if I have it in me again, to stand up if we do this wrong.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”  Noah feels like Kurt is seeing things three steps ahead of where they are right now, and he’s struggling to keep up.  He blinks a couple of times, tries to figure out what to do, because he’s pretty sure he’s rapidly losing all the ground they’ve gained in the past week, and he’s not ready to let go of this before it even has a chance to get started.

But he can’t find words, so he just stands there, his arms around Kurt, just holding on and hoping for some kind miracle.

**

Kurt knows that he’s blowing things way out of proportion, but between the kiss and how right it feels with Noah’s arms around him like that, well.  His brain finally has time to be scared, and that fear is coming out of his mouth entirely the wrong way.

He’s got to fix this, and fast, before he pushes Noah so far away that there will be no getting him back.

“It’s too cold out here,” he says, slipping out of Noah’s arms.  “Let’s go inside.”  Kurt turns suddenly, moves inside and waits for Noah to join him before heading up the stairs into the loft.  He sits on the edge of the bed, leaves his shoes on the floor, and tucks himself onto the bed, his back against the wall.  He pats the bed next to him, and he watches Noah think for half a second before crossing the room to join him. 

Kurt waits while he settles in, lays on his back and opens his arms, beckons Kurt closer.

“I won’t bite,” he says, and Kurt laughs, because he has to do something.

I might,” Kurt groans, and shifts twice before he finally settles half on top of Noah.

Then he takes a deep, shuddery breath and begins.

“I barely came back from being broken the second time, and I’m still getting over the third time.  Doing . . . this, it probably isn’t smart, and I don’t know if I can stop myself, but I also don’t know if I can survive being broken a fourth time.”

“What was the first time?” Noah asks.

“My mother.”  She’s the easiest to talk about, oddly enough.  Kurt suspects that it’s because he’s had more of his life without her than he ever had with her, and she’s just memories now, soft and giving and always perfect because he was just a little boy and she was his mommy.

“How old were you when she died?”

“Too young,” Kurt bites, then pulls his bitterness back.  “Eight.”

“And the second time was your dad.”  It’s not a question.

“Yes,” Kurt says with a sigh.

“I’m surprised it’s never come up before, in any of the press for your books.  I had to dig to find it.”

“That’s because Blaine made sure it didn’t.  He protected me.  He always protected me.”

“And Blaine would be?  I mean, other than the Blaine Anderson who split with Dalton, according to Pub Weekly.  That’s what got this all started, you know.”  Noah’s gaze is firm, and it makes Kurt mildly uncomfortable.

“I do know.  That’s what started it all for me, too.  And that’s what I need to tell you about.  Blaine wasn’t just my editor.  He was my boyfriend, and he’s the third thing that broke me.”

“He didn’t leave on his own terms.”

“No.  And he kept more secrets from me than I think I even realize.  He wanted what was best for me, but he kept me too safe.”  He knows he isn’t making any sense, and that he won’t until Noah has the whole picture, so he keeps going.  “The only things that got me through, after my dad, were Blaine and the writing.”  He doesn’t know how to explain those first months, winter in New York, Blaine a January admit to Eugene Lang College and Kurt with nothing but the trust from his father’s estate, but he knows he has to try.

“I think I need to start at the beginning,” he finally says, and tries again.  He tells Noah about growing up clearly a queer little boy in Lima, about the bullying and the sometime-sanctuary of Glee, and the way that Dalton gave him his life but took other things.  He talks about Blaine, and what it was like to finally have someone who just understood him and loved him anyway.

“And my dad,” he says, and chokes on his words because it’s been 12 years and it still feels like yesterday, but he can’t lose it yet, he can’t.  “My dad was always there.  He always supported me, whatever I wanted to do.  I’m the reason he ran for Congress in the first place, you know?  Because he saw the way the arts saved me, and he couldn’t stand the thought of that getting taken away.  I never asked him to do it, he just- he saw a need and he did it, and he won.  And he would have been so good, if he’d just had the chance . . .”  he stops, blinks, realizes that he’s crying, but he has to tell it, all of it, not just the parts that everyone knows.

Noah’s hand is rubbing gentle circles on his back, and it warms him. 

“He did it all because of me, and I’m the reason he died,” he finally manages, the tears coming harder now, but he doesn’t even have room in his heart to be ashamed of crying.

“That’s not true.  That guy wasn’t right, the one who-”

“No.”  Of course Noah would think that.  He’s only heard the news reports and read the articles, and it was so chaotic, in the important minutes afterward that Kurt hadn’t been entirely sure what had happened until he’d snapped out of it in the surgical waiting room with the gunman’s voice echoing in his ear.  By the time he remembered, the shooter was already dead at the hands of the cops and his dad was in a coma and none of it mattered.  Nothing had mattered except that his dad was in the ICU because of him, and later that his dad was dead because of him.

“I’m the only one left who knows,” he says, and his words sound distant, hollow.  He shivers, suddenly cold, and he’s thankful when Noah reaches down for the throw that’s over the foot of the bed and wraps him up in it.  “Thank you,” he says into the fleece tucked around his chin. 

“You’re the only one left who knows what?”

Kurt closes his eyes, and he’s right back at the event that day, nothing fancy, just a stop at a deli up in Findlay, shake some hands and urge people to get out and vote.  It went well, they’d had a nice lunch, and Kurt had been happy to have that little bit of time alone with his dad.  They were in the parking lot, walking to the car, when this man was there, and Kurt was frozen, and the man was calling Kurt fag and queer, and shouting about how gays were ruining society, and then there was a gun and his dad was crossing in front of him, pushing him aside at the echoing click of the trigger, and that was the end.

“The gunman was aiming at me, and my dad pushed me.  He sacrificed himself to save me.”  He loses it then, curling in on himself and sobbing into Noah’s shirt.

**

Noah’s pretty sure that he should be freaking out with Kurt falling apart in his arms, but it feels like the most natural thing in the world.  He can’t imagine what it must feel like for Kurt, to have kept all of that inside for all these years.  “Shhh,” Noah soothes him.  “It’s okay.  I’ve got you.”

He keeps holding on, whispering nothings and rubbing Kurt’s back, and he can feel Kurt gradually calming, finding himself again.  “I’m sorry,” he says after a long minute of ragged but silent breathing.  “I’m not usually like this.”

Noah has a feeling that he doesn’t need to dig too hard.  Kurt seems pretty open and ready for talking, and he wonders what exactly makes Kurt know that he can trust all of his secrets to Noah.

“What are you usually like?”  Because he wants to know.  He feels it deep inside himself, this absolute wanting to know everything he possibly can about Kurt.

“Silent.  Contained.  If I pretend to be okay, then everyone will leave me alone.  Blaine made sure that I didn’t have to do appearances or interviews, because he wanted to protect me.  We went to New York for a new life.  He was the one who got me writing.  There were some days when I couldn’t even get out of bed, and he was in school and making friends and everything, and I was just there in the apartment like a lump.  So one morning he was getting ready for his day and he got mad at me.  Told me I needed to do something.  Even if I didn’t leave the apartment, I had to find some way to let go of my grief, so I just started thinking about all the things I’d planned for my life, and how nothing was like that anymore, and I had to mourn that.”

Noah listens, and he thinks about Infinite Truth, and he can see it now, clearly, how the book was a catharsis for Kurt, because it felt like that for him in the reading.  “You did good,” he tells Kurt.  “I knew there was more than what was on the page.”  It feels brazen, but he kisses the top of Kurt’s head.  “Thank you, for trusting me.”

“I don’t know why I do,” Kurt says, and burrows closer, “but I do, and I think I have to have faith in that, since I don’t know anything else right now.”

Noah closes his eyes, thinks about all that Kurt has laid bare for him, and he knows he owes Kurt a piece of his own soul, if they’re going to be able to build anything out of the tattered pieces of their lives.  “I always run,” he begins, because it’s the thing that really does bother him the most.  He hates himself for it.  It’s all I’ve done, my whole life, and I could blame it on my asshole father or something, but I think I do it because it’s easier than sticking around to watch the fallout.”

He shifts, props himself up on his elbow so that he’s facing Kurt.  He wants to touch, feels the wanting of it curling through his fingers, so he trails one carefully down the side of Kurt’s face.  “I’m glad you trust me, but I don’t trust myself.”

“Why not?” 

“Because.  I ran away from Chillicothe as soon as I had enough money to get me there and set up; I still see my sister but I haven’t talked to my mother in years.  I have a fourteen year old daughter who I gave up because I wasn’t man enough to raise her on my own.  The only long-term commitment I made and kept in LA was my editing and proofing work, and when I realized that my last boyfriend was just dating me because he thought I’d help him meet celebrities, I just . . . ran.  I had the job offer from New Directions, and it seemed like a good time to make a new start.  So one morning Kyle got up and went to work, and I packed up my shit and got in my car and just left.  I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, and I haven’t talked to anyone since I left.  I just disappeared.”

“That doesn’t make you a bad person,” Kurt says, his eyes still a little shiny with unshed tears.

“Not bad, just unreliable.  And I don’t want to be another person who could hurt you, because, god, Kurt, you don’t deserve that.”

Kurt sits up, the blanket still wrapped around himself.  “I don’t need your pity.”

“It’s not- fuck, I’m screwing this all up.  It’s not pity.  It’s just- you’re so special and you don’t even know it, and I don’t want to be another in a list of people who’ve broken you so far down that you can’t get up again.”

“I don’t need you to promise that you’re not going to hurt me,” Kurt begins, and Noah breaks in.

“But you said-”

“I know what I said,” Kurt insists, “but hurting and breaking aren’t the same things at all.  I don’t need you to be careful with me, I just need you to know me.  To l- um.”  He stops, closes his eyes.  “I can’t, it’s too soon, we hardly even-” he’s really talking to himself, but Noah already knows.  He felt it all the way from New York in the car, and sitting in the coffeeshop, and most distinctly here, in this too-small bed caring for Kurt in a way that he’s never cared for himself.

“You can say it,” he says, hushed, because it’s true.  It’s been true for him since the first book, and all the rest of this has just been the long way around to acceptance, as far as he’s concerned.  “It’s not going to scare me because I already know.”

“It’s impossible,” Kurt protests.  “It doesn’t happen like this.”

Noah has to chuckle at that.  “Who says?  There aren’t any rules for this.”

“Then I guess I can say that I want you to l- um.  Love me.”  Kurt blushes, and it’s adorable and kind of sexy, and Noah can’t decide if he should hug Kurt or maul him.

But he stops his brain in his tracks, tucks a hand under Kurt’s chin and holds his head still so that he can look right into Kurt’s eyes.  “I want you to love me, too,” he says, and he can hear the wanting in his own voice, sees it reflected back at him in Kurt’s eyes.

Kurt rests his forehead against Noah’s shoulder.  “It’s too fast,” he admits.  “I don’t want to ruin it by rushing.”

Noah kisses his hair again and slides away and off the bed.  He holds out his hand.  “C’mon.  We should eat something.”  It’s dark out, now, and he’s tired and hungry and he just wants to curl up and lose himself in the feel of Kurt against him.

“There’s not a lot, but we can make some pasta if you want.”  Kurt takes his hand, and they walk side by side down the narrow stairs. 

“Pasta sounds perfect.”

**

They eat sitting on the living room floor, their plates in their laps and wine in juice glasses.  Kurt feels less shaky with food, and the wine helps relax him.  He’s still a little hollow from the crying, but he knows that he’ll feel better after sleep.

Being with Noah like this, it feels easy and comfortable and impossibly like something he’s always known how to do even though he’s never experienced anything like this before.  When they’re done eating, plates and empty glasses set carefully aside, Kurt leans over and kisses away a tiny spot of tomato sauce that is stuck at the corner of Noah’s lips.  He’s slightly surprised when Noah’s lips just yield under his, because the kiss notches from teasing to wanton in less than second, and he still feels so unsure about what he’s even doing . . .

He pulls back, maybe too sharply, because Noah’s apologizing before Kurt’s really even out of his space.  “I’m sorry, god.  I wasn’t going to- but I wanted-”

Kurt puts a hand up.  “Please, stop apologizing.  Remember what I told you?  I’m a big boy.  I can police myself.  I think you surprised me, more than anything.”  He looks down, twists his hands together.  “I think I like kissing you,” he says softly, “but I think I might prefer kissing you someplace that isn’t on the floor.”

“Bed, then,” Noah says with a nod.

“Yes,” Kurt replies, and it’s answer and prayer all in the same breath. 

They leave the dishes in the sink, and Kurt closes up the downstairs, leaves the house dark and silent save for the both of them breathing and his own heard thudding in his chest. 

Noah’s standing at the top of the stairs, and he looks questioningly at Kurt, an eyebrow quirked and a hand lifting the hem of his t-shirt.  Kurt nods at him, and sets to work shedding his own clothes as he crosses the loft, until he’s standing by the bed stripped down to his boxer briefs. 

“You sure?”  Noah is warm behind him, smooth skin and strong arms around his waist and the intimate feel of his lips brushing Kurt’s ear and the line of his jaw.

“I’m sure,” and he is.  “I just want to feel close to you.  I’m not putting out on our first date, though,” he adds, a teasing lilt in his words.

“I didn’t think you were,” Noah whispers with a kiss at the crook of Kurt’s neck, and damn if he hadn’t just swore he wasn’t going to make the night into anything really sexual because that feels too good to refuse.  “C’mon,” Noah says, nudging him onto the bed.  “I promise, I’ll be good.”

“You’re not the one I’m worried about,” Kurt explains, because he’s been in a near-constant state of low-grade arousal since Noah sat down across from him at the Wired Puppy and he’s really not sure he can trust himself.

He watches Noah looking at him, feels Noah’s eyes roaming over his body and settling on his cock, half-hard in his shorts.  “I can help you with that, if you want,” Noah offers, and god, it’s tempting, but Kurt shakes his head. 

“I’ll be okay,” he says, as if saying it aloud will help him convince himself.  “I just- I just want to be close to you.”

“That sounds perfect.”  Noah pulls back the blankets and crawls into the bed.  “This okay?  Or do you prefer the inside?”

“No, this is good.”  Kurt settles on the edge of the bed.  “Sometimes I feel closed in, if I sleep on the inside.”  He stretches out carefully, not sure how much contact is enough, or where the line of too much lies.  But Noah seems to understand, and curls himself around Kurt.  It feels right, and the same kind of calm that he’s felt on and off all day settles over him like a blanket.  He sighs, oddly relieved, and feels Noah do the same.

“We’re not crazy, are we?” he asks, because it feels like he at least might be.

“No.  Not crazy.”  Noah sounds certain, secure in everything, so Kurt just holds onto that, listening to the sound of Noah breathing until he falls asleep.

Saturday they walk into town for breakfast, and then Noah goes back to his B&B to shower and change and pick up some work.  Kurt is already engrossed in his writing when Noah returns, his hair still damp and a stack of paper in his arms.

“Manuscripts?” Kurt eyes the pile, which tips precariously when Noah sets it on the table.

“I don’t want to keep you from writing, if things are going well.  I can read as easily here as I can in my room, and the company is so much better.”  He winks at Kurt, and Kurt’s heart turns a somersault.

He’s so gone, and he knows it, and he’s pretty sure that there’s nothing he can do about it.  He’s in this, has been since the webchat, and fighting it is futile.

Even so, he’s kind of terrified and he doesn’t want to let Noah see it, because all of what’s happening between them feels like it’s built on a layer of sand and air, like it could come crashing down in a violent heap if they’re not careful, if he shows his fear.

He’s able to bury the worst of it in his writing, and the day slides along in a companionable silence that’s broken only by Kurt’s fingers on his keyboard and Noah’s occasional interruptions to read him something touching or funny or so outlandish from the manuscript he’s reading.

They cook out, steak and grilled corn and some of the potato salad from the deli that Kurt’s kind of addicted to.  After dinner, Noah builds a small fire in the pit on the beach, and they sit wrapped up in each other, sometimes kissing but mostly talking.  The conversation weaves and turns from light to serious, and ends with Kurt pulling out his cell phone and calling up an old youtube video of the glee club their first season, singing Queen at Sectionals. 

Noah laughs appropriately, and comments on how young Kurt looks.  “Nothing like you do now,” he murmurs. 

Kurt just leans back further into the curve of Noah’s body.  “Would you show me pictures of your daughter?” he asks, because he wants to move the conversation away from his transformation from ugly duckling to what Blaine once referred to as the hottest fucking butterfly ever.

Noah shifts behind him, pulls out his phone.  Kurt watches him tap through his screens, and then there’s a grainy picture of Noah in a gauzy yellow hospital cover cradling a pink-wrapped bundle.  “This is the day she was born,” Noah says.

“You don’t look anything like you do now either,” Kurt deflects, nodding at the tiny screen and sixteen year old Noah with a mohawk.

“I liked to think I was a badass, back then.  She changed all of that.”

“What’s her name?”  Because Kurt’s never asked and Noah’s never volunteered.

“Beth.”  He swipes his thumb, and runs through a veritable flip-book of pictures of Beth in Halloween costumes and Christmas pajamas, riding a red tricycle and a purple two-wheeler.  Gap-toothed and grinning at the end of a balance beam, on a set of risers with other kids singing.  And the last one, of her and Noah at a baseball game, all decked out in fan gear. 

“She’s beautiful,” Kurt tells him.  “You’ve done well by her.”

“Thanks.”  Noah’s voice is a little choked.  “I tell myself that, because I know I couldn’t have raised her, not the way I was back then.  But I wanted to, and some days I still want to.”

“You want to have kids?”

“Someday.  If the situation is right.  I know that there’s really no right time or situation, but I feel like I have the luxury to choose it, this time.  What about you?”

“Blaine and I talked about it, but it never went further than that.  Now, I don’t know.  I think I have a lot to deal with first before I can even think about kids.”

“Yeah.”  Noah tightens his arms around Kurt, and Kurt doesn’t want to think about how safe that makes him feel.

There are lots of things he doesn’t want to think about right now, so he just focuses on being present in this little pocket of time and space with Noah, and tries to let the rest of it go.

But by Sunday morning, less than 48 hours into whatever this is that they’re doing, he’s starting to freak out.

He doesn’t want Noah to know.  It’s not that he’s having doubts, it’s that he doesn’t understand how any of this is going to work long term.  He wants it, yeah, and he’s pretty sure that Noah wants it, but there are no plans, and he really likes plans.  He’s afraid to bring it up, even, because he’s worried about miscommunication and misperception when he and Noah are still learning each other.

Noah cooks pancakes and eggs for breakfast, and after they eat Kurt opens up his computer and hands it to Noah.  “I want you to read this.  It’s the first chapter, and you need to see it.”  He closes his eyes.  “I’m embarrassed to tell you, but you’re the reason I’m writing at all.  You touched something in me that I didn’t think needed anything or anyone anymore.  So thank you.”

Noah lowers the lid on the computer slightly and looks at Kurt.  “No,” he says.  “Thank you.  For trusting me with this.”

Kurt curls up on the other end of the couch with one of Noah’s manuscripts and leaves Noah to his reading.  His heart is racing a little, because he never ever shares his work when it’s this rough and this uncertain, but he feels like he has to.

**

Noah isn’t surprised when he’s tugged immediately into Kurt’s created universe.  This one is, from what Noah knows, all Kurt.  It’s his own story, or at least a slightly fictionalized account of it.  There is so much pain in the pages, sadness and anger and hurt-tinged joy, and on some level it’s almost unbearable.  But as much as it breaks Noah’s heart, it’s perfect, because it’s exactly what he wants in a book.  When he reaches the end of what he assumes is the opening chapter, he closes the laptop and slides it back across the expanse of sofa between them.  “It’s amazing, Kurt.  It’s perfectly wrenching.  Please let me publish it.”

Kurt stiffens and pushes to his feet.  “How can I be sure you love me?  I mean, this could all be some elaborate play to convince me to sign a contract with New Directions.  What’s the price if I don’t?”  He sounds scared and angry and more than a little bitter, and it twists like a knife in Noah’s gut.  He can’t say anything, because of course it started off as his job, but once he opened the first book it has been about so very much more than that.

“It’s not like that,” Noah tries to explain, reaching out for Kurt’s hand.  If he can just make contact, reach past Kurt’s fear – and he knows, like he knows his own heart, that it’s fear making Kurt push him away – then he can reestablish his tenuous hold on the delicate threads of what they’re trying to do here.

“Are you sure?  Can you honestly tell me that you don’t have a secondary motive here?  Because if you can’t, then I think we need to reconsider what we’re doing here.”  Kurt’s moving again, swift and sure and toward the door.  Noah knows he’s about to bolt, and because he’s too busy thinking about how to intercept Kurt he doesn’t answer Kurt’s question.

The silence stretches between them and Kurt’s face falls.  “That’s all the answer I need, then.”

“Wait-“ Noah reaches out again, tries to grab Kurt, but he’s already gone, off the deck and down the beach toward the ocean.

Noah chases after him, catches up when Kurt stops, up to his ankles in the cold water.  Noah grabs him a little roughly, because he’s upset and panicked in his own right, and he turns Kurt to face him.  “I promised you I would try not to run, and here you are running from me.”

“I’m not running,” Kurt says, and he’s not quite yelling but it’s close, and any volume to his voice is swallowed up in the wind. 

“Then what the hell is this?”  Noah sweeps his hand between them.  “Because it looks like running to me, and I think you’re terrified and for some reason you won’t talk to me about it.  We can’t do this unless we’re honest.”

Kurt frowns at him.  “You’re the one who isn’t being honest,” he snarls, and Noah knows that Kurt has a point. 

Instead of saying anything in response, he pulls Kurt close and kisses him hard, a little violent, hand twisted in the front of Kurt’s shirt.  He’s pissed, partly at Kurt for not understanding, but mostly at himself for not making it clear.  “You want honesty?  Then try this,” he says when he finally pulls away, the taste of Kurt’s mouth, coffee and maple syrup, still on his lips and tongue.  “I fucking love you,” he says over the waves and the salt and the spray.  “I’ve loved you since I read the first words of your book, and I don’t care about signing you if it means that I’m going to lose you.  I’ll hand you off to anyone in the office except Will if you want.  I just want you.”

“Why?  I mean, I’m not much of a catch.  I hardly ever even leave the house and I don’t know how to trust people, and I’m pretty much a wreck.”  Kurt’s self-flagellation is cold and bitter.

Noah takes one of Kurt’s hands in both of his.  “You’re not listening.  I. Don’t. Care.  I don’t care about any of that.  I just love you, and I know that I should be able to justify how I know that, but I can’t.  It’s just the way it is.”  He’s thinking of a song, one that he listened to over and over again his senior year, when he was aching to run, to live, to love.  He didn’t understand it then, but he does now, and he sings the line soft, under his breath, not so much an announcement to the world as something he just wants to share with Kurt.  “I’d tell you that I loved you before I ever knew you ‘cause I loved the simple thought of you.” 

Kurt sighs. “You didn’t.” 

“Oh, yeah,” Noah breaks into a grin.  “I totally did.  I don’t think I actually realized it until you took off, but yeah.”

“Things like that, like this, don’t really happen.”  Kurt is insistent, and he’s inching slowly away from Noah.

“Well, I don’t know about you, b-” Noah breaks off, because he wants to say so much, but he feels like every time he lays himself out there for Kurt to see, it just makes Kurt retreat even more.

“What?”  Kurt looks at him sideways.  “You were going to say something, call me something.”  He huffs into the air, and it feels like anger.  “Just say it.”

Noah closes the distance between them, wraps one hand around the back of Kurt’s neck and holds him firmly.  He presses his lips to Kurt’s forehead.  “Baby,” he whispers, and kisses again on his cheek, his neck, his lips.  “Baby, baby, baby,” he hushes, and it’s a question and a statement all at once. 

He feels Kurt shudder.  “What, baby?” he asks, and then Kurt is crashing into him, kissing him back, and it’s more wanton and needy than anything that’s happened between them all weekend.  It makes the want coil in Noah’s belly, and the only thought he’s able to spare as he wrenches away from Kurt is that they have to get inside before they make a scene on the beach.  “I need you,” he growls, low, and he feels Kurt shiver.

“Please,” Kurt says, and Noah feels foolish and childish when he grins at Kurt, heart fluttering with anticipation.

“Race you,” he says, and takes off.

“Brat,” he hears Kurt calling behind him, but he doesn’t slow down until he’s on the deck throwing the slider open. 

He’s hungry for Kurt, hungry for his mouth on Kurt’s neck, nipples, cock.  His hands are aching to touch, to tease, to take.  He feels like he’s on fire, and he’s pretty sure that he’s got about as much control as he had in high school, so he tries to focus on something other than the squeak of the door as Kurt pushes it closed.

What finally draws his attention is the light reluctance in Kurt’s posture, the way he’s a little bit curled in on himself.  He reaches out for Kurt’s hand, and Kurt stretches his own across the distance between them, tangles his fingers with Noah’s, and gives in.  He lets Noah lead him up the stairs to the bed, and lets Noah settle them face to face on the pillows. 

“Just talk to me,” Noah pleads, his hands gentle over Kurt’s hair and the side of his face and his shoulder and hip.  “I know you don’t trust this, and you probably don’t trust me, and I know you’re absolutely terrified, but I don’t know how many more ways to show or tell you how I feel.  This is what I want.  You’re who I want, and if this is as real for you as it is for me, then we need to talk about all of this before we do anything else.  Please.”

**

Kurt knows that he’s fucked it all up.  The barely clouded hurt in Noah’s eyes is telling him everything, but he doesn’t know how to fix it.  He doesn’t know how to do what Noah is asking.  He takes a deep breath and tells him exactly that.

“You don’t know how to talk?”  Noah peers at him critically.

“Not about anything important like this,” he sighs.

Noah waves a hand at himself.  “Chronic runner, remember?  I’m no expert either.  Just- just try.  Just tell me one thing that’s scary for you right now.”

“You’re going to be in New York and I’m going to be here.  It’s a day’s drive each way, which means that you won’t be able to get here very often.  How do we build something only through words?  It doesn’t seem like something that can be real, or sustainable over the long run.”  It’s not the most important of the things that have him terrified, but it’s the easiest to access in the moment, and, he thinks as he watches Noah watching him, it might be the easiest to work through.

“I couldn’t come down every weekend, but maybe I could arrange it with the office that I could telecommute some weeks.  Drive up on Saturday, spend a week, and go back on the following Sunday?  Or you could come to the city, if you wanted to.”

The thought sends a spiral of dread down Kurt’s spine, and he shakes his head.  “No.  I- um.  Shit.  I don’t think I can go back there.  It was never my city, anyway.  I mean, it was, but that was before.  Once we moved it was Blaine’s city, and I never felt like I fit.”

“I’ll talk to Will when I get back to work.  I can work something out because, god.  I gotta tell you, the idea of leaving you tomorrow is almost painful.”

That hits Kurt hard, because he’s been trying not to think about Noah leaving.  It’s just been so . . . comfortable, having him there.  When he’s not freaking out and trying to push Noah away, at least, but maybe the comfort is some of what is making him feel like he can be scared.

“I don’t like being afraid,” he says, and curls himself a little closer to the security of Noah’s body. 

“I know,” Noah tells him.

“But how do you know?  We really hardly know each other.”  It’s the crux of what’s been eating at him, and he wants to understand.

‘Because.”  Noah brushes a piece of hair off Kurt’s forehead and presses another one of those infuriatingly chaste kisses in the spot where his finger had been.  “I’ve read your books.  Gabe is you, and his story is your story, so I know you because of your words.  You give away more than you realize, in your pages.  You say you don’t know how to build something between us only with words, but you don’t seem to realize what a gift your words are.  If the words are all we have, for now, then we can make that work.  Just- fuck, Kurt.  Just give it a chance.  Don’t push me away before we have the opportunity to grow this.”

Kurt hears the wanting in Noah’s voice.  His brain is still screaming at him that this is the worst of all possible bad ideas, but his heart is hammering in his chest because he’s right there, so close to Noah, and he feels so warm and safe and wanting.  He’s trembling, and his voice cracks, but he asks anyway.  “Show me.”

“Show you what?” Noah asks, sounding confused.

“Show me how you love me.  Please,” he pleads, and it sounds like begging and feels like the biggest risk he’s ever taken, but he has to know. 

**

Noah watches Kurt, and listens, really listens, because this matters like nothing else in his life ever has.  Kurt’s voice is saying love me love me love me and the way his body is curled in says that he’s still a little unsure, that he doesn’t completely trust what’s happening.  Like everything else with Kurt, he knows he has to walk the fine line between moving slow and giving a little push. 

He decides to push first.

He closes the spare distance between them and kisses Kurt soundly, at great length, until he feels the last bit of tension in Kurt’s body let go. 

“That’s right,” he whispers, moving his mouth from Kurt’s and down his jaw, over his neck.  He wants more skin, so he tugs at the collar of Kurt’s shirt and sucks lightly at the accessible skin of Kurt’s shoulder.  “Just let go.  Do you trust me?”  He nips again at Kurt’s neck, and Kurt tips his head back to give Noah better access.

“Yes,” Kurt sighs.

Good.  Then trust me to take care of you, okay?”

“Mmm,” Kurt murmurs, but when he looks at Noah his eyes are a little too wide and bright.

“Hey,” Noah stops and holds Kurt’s gaze.  “This has nothing to do with anything else in your life, okay?  This is just you and me, in this moment.  You, letting me love you, and me, showing you what you asked for.  Me, taking care of you.  And you’re taking care of me, too you know.”

“No,” Kurt says.  “Really?”

“You’re trusting me with your heart, baby.  That . . . nobody really trusts me, so.  That you do is kind of a big deal for me.”

“Oh,” Kurt whispers.  “Okay,” he nods, and Noah can tell just by feeling that Kurt has calmed a little bit.

This time, when he kisses Kurt, Kurt responds willingly, his body yielding in all kinds of delicious ways.  Kurt quickly tugs, irritated, at Noah’s shirt.  “I want to feel you.  Please.”

It’s the endless about of polite begging that almost renders Noah incoherent, because fuck, that’s hot.  He sits up and slides away to strip his clothes off, and when he turns back he sees that Kurt is beautifully, gloriously naked next to him and he just wants.

It’s so easy to lose himself, mind and body and heart, in Kurt’s body.  He shuts everything else out, everything except for Kurt’s needs in those moments.  His hands are fire, leaving trails of heat everywhere he touches on Kurt’s skin.  He can feel it, pouring out of him and coursing through Kurt before sliding back into him, pooling in his limbs and at his core.  It’s some weird energy, and he can feel it almost binding them together before he even slicks himself and slides, wordlessly, inside of Kurt.

And that is more intense heat, the energy snaking around them, keeping them close even as Noah moves, slow and a little cautious, rocking Kurt’s body under him gently.

He’s startled by an odd stinging on his back, and he can hear Kurt muttering faintly over the sound of both their hearts beating in unison in his ears.  Fuck me, just fuck me, Kurt is chanting, and that spurs him on a little more.  He hates to, but he pulls the length of his body back from Kurt, who keens with the separation. 

“Shhh,” he soothes, and calls him baby and beautiful and oh, god, so amazing, even as he tugs on Kurt’s hips, settles himself on his knees, and moves.  Still gentle, but somehow with more force, and he feels it the instant that Kurt gives up and goes boneless, the last thread of his control vanished into the cooling night.

“Good boy,” Noah says, and he has no idea where that even comes from, but it feels right and it does something to Kurt, because he’s crying and digging his heels into mattress, meeting Noah thrust for thrust until he’s incoherent and shuddering and coming, tugging Noah along to his own release.

Noah has no idea what Kurt is feeling, but he knows that he’s had lots of sex but it’s never felt quite so important as it does right now. 

He tugs the blankets around them before they have a chance to get chilled, and he wipes his thumb across Kurt’s cheeks.  “God, baby, you’re so amazing.”

“You made me feel like it mattered,” Kurt says, soft and incredibly young sounding.  “Like I matter.”

“Honey,” Noah tucks Kurt into him, holds him as tight as he can.  “You do matter.  We matter.  Do you see, now?  Did you feel it, the way you’re a part of me already?”

Kurt nods.  “I think so.  It was intense, like fire.”

“It was your heart, and mine.”  He chuckles.  “I think you’re stuck with me.”

“And you’re stuck with me,” Kurt yawns.  “I’m still scared,” he warns.  “I can’t promise I won’t flip out again.”

“So you call me, and we’ll talk it through.”  Noah has no idea if that will even work, of course, but they’re going to have to try lots of unconventional things if they’re going to make this work.  “We’ll figure it out.” 

“I trust you,” Kurt says, and for the first time all weekend Noah genuinely believes him.

“I love you,” Noah whispers into the dark. 

Kurt sighs and snuggles a little further under the blankets.  “I love you too, baby.”

Noah’s heart turns over, and he’s pretty sure that he falls asleep with a stupid grin on his face.

**

The bed is empty when Kurt wakes up, the sun slanting through the windows making lines on the floor.  He’s wrapped in blankets, and he can smell coffee brewing.  He’s about to get up when the stairs squeak and Noah’s head appears at the top.

“Oh good, you’re up.  I made you a cup.  I hope you don’t mind, I made myself enough for my travel mug.”

“That’s fine,” Kurt says.  “Thank you.”

“It’s just coffee,” Noah waves him off.

“Not for the coffee, though that’s a nice bonus.  For last night.  For taking care of me, for showing me that letting you in doesn’t mean that I have to give up any of myself.”

“Baby,” Noah sighs, and he looks like Kurt is breaking his heart.  “You never have to give up yourself.  I want you just as you are.”

Kurt still isn’t a hundred percent convinced that Noah’s words are true, but he’s closer than he was last night, and all of Noah’s words come flooding back to him.  Trust me, he’s said more than once this weekend, and Kurt wants to.  He wants to so much.

“I’m trying,” he whispers.  “I’m trying so hard to just . . . believe all of this.  Trust it.  Trust you.  I’m getting there.”

“I know, baby.”  Noah sits on the edge of the bed and presses his palm against Kurt’s cheek.  “It’s not a race, okay?  And there are no rules.  We just do this, you and me, together, at our own pace.”

“Okay,” Kurt sighs, and feels another little piece of the fear chip away.

“I have to go soon,” Noah says, disappointment echoing around them.  “But I’ll call you tonight when I get home, and I always have my cell with me, so we can be in constant contact if you want.”

“It would be so much better if you could just stay,” Kurt blurts, and he knows that every word is true.

“I know.  But I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  Noah says it like it’s a promise, and Kurt supposes that it is. 

“I believe you,” Kurt tells him, and that’s true too.

Noah kisses him, coffee and toothpaste, and it’s bittersweet and full of longing and promise and it gives Kurt enough strength to let Noah go.

“I’ll be okay,” he says, after he’s haphazardly dressed in yesterday’s shorts and t-shirt and watching Noah gather his papers and things from the living room.

“I know,” Noah says.  “And if you’re not, that’s okay too.  We’ll get through it.”

Kurt stands on the front step and watches Noah walk the brief distance back into town to the room at the B&B where he hardly stayed.  It’s not a goodby, he knows this.  It’s more like a beginning, and it’s good and hard and messy.  He doesn’t regret any of it, can’t regret any of it, because he feels like he’s actually living again for the first time in forever.

But sometimes living hurts like hell.

He waits until he can’t see Noah anymore, and then he goes back inside, wraps himself in a blanket on the couch, and cries as he writes, and writes, and writes.

Epilogue

From The Advocate , July 7, 2025, by Eric Colson, arts editor

Openly gay author Kurt Hummel breaks his career-long silence and talks about his startling new novel, the changes the last year has brought to his life, and his next project.

I caught up with Kurt Hummel at his usual public writing haunt, The Wired Puppy in Provincetown, MA, on a Saturday in late May.  He was already there when I arrived, sipping on an iced chai and working on something, his laptop open and his fingers moving at top speed, but he immediately put his work away and settled in for our interview.  While Hummel has been writing engaging and authentic gay-themed books since he was 21, he’s been notoriously absent from the public light.  He’s never done an interview, and hasn’t made any public appearances in close to ten years.  In this interview he comes clean about his new home, his new book, and who the mystery man in the inscription of his book is.

Q: Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  You recently moved out of New York, correct?

KH: I’ve actually been out here since last summer, but you’re right, I did just buy a house.

Q: Why make the move when you’d been in the city so long?

KH: My previous relationship sort of imploded, and I needed a refuge.  I have these friends, we’ve been close since high school.  One of them is a dancer and choreographer, and he was out here for the summer teaching, so he and his girlfriend welcomed me into their summer rental.  It was . . . exactly what I needed, to start to come back to myself and to my writing.  When the summer ended, I stayed, and halfway through the winter I realized that this felt much more like home to me than the city ever did. 

Q: Your new book, River of Stars, is quite a departure from your previous book.  What influenced you to try something so different?

KH: When everything changed for me, I knew I couldn’t write another romance, at least not one that’s a romance in the traditional sense.  Because River is a romance, in a sense.  It’s just much more about the things in our lives that try to destroy us and the things that get us through the broken days.

Q: This book is personal, then.

KH: (laughs) All my books are personal.  But yes, this one more than the others is a true reflection of some of the places I’ve been in my life, and the people and things that have saved me.

Q: Writing has saved you, then?

KH: Oh, definitely.  Writing was what got me out of bed after my father was killed (Hummel’s father, late Congressman Burt Hummel, was killed in 2012), and it helped me learn to live again last year, which was something I’d been doing halfheartedly since I was eighteen.

Q: Can I read you something?

KH: Of course.

Q: For the memory of my father, and for my Puck, my very own knavish sprite, who stayed when I pushed, and who saw me through the fear. 

KH: (blushing) Yeah.  I figured that was coming. 

Q: So, who is this mysterious Puck?

KH: He’s my boyfriend, and my new editor at New Directions.  Well.  He’s technically not my editor anymore, but he’s the one who brought me over to ND. 

Q: So, you met at work?

KH: Sort of?  We met because he was trying to sign me, but it became more than business pretty fast. 

Q: It sounds from the inscription, though, that you had some struggles.

KH: Of course.  We both have histories, and things we struggle with every day, and neither of us is perfect, but we muddle through okay.  (laughs) He’s still here, at least.  And so am I.  We love each other as best we can, and he’s helped me to realize that by letting love like that into my life, however surprising and unexpected it was, I’ve opened up all the parts of me that I kept closed away for so long.

Q: Could you clarify that a little?

KH: It’s going to sound hokey, I know, but he just loves all of me.  And that makes it easier for me to see the complete picture of who I am, and to accept those things that I always thought were going to hold me back if someone knew.  There are no secrets anymore, at least not with him. 

Q: Congratulations, then.

KH: Thank you.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?

KH: I’m about three chapters in to the new Infinity novel.  Gabe has been through some changes since we saw him last, but I think everyone will be pleased with his journey.  I hope it will ring true to people, because like all of the other books, Gabe is me and his story is mine.

Q: I for one am looking forward to reading it.  When will it be available?

KH: Right now we’re anticipating a June release, just in time for beach season.

Kurt Hummel’s new novel, River of Stars, is available in hardcover and ebook from New Directions Publishing.  See the review on the previous page for more information.