Dave's been more distant the last few times Blaine’s talked to him. It's not really what he says or doesn't say; he'll still talk at length with Blaine about baseball, about players' stats, about why he likes (of all things) the Chicago Cubs. He'll complain about how much extra studying he needs to cram in before the AP American Government exam or laugh about something one of the math girls said at lunch.
But it's also different. There's this hesitation before he speaks – a quarter beat or a half beat – like he's mulling over whether he's about to say the wrong thing.
Blaine thought maybe he was reading distance into their conversations just because they’ve spent more time talking on the phone than in person this past week, what with New Directions going to Nationals and Dave having to skip one of their study sessions for an AP exam. But even when they’ve been together in person, the hesitation has been there. On Thursday, when Kurt pulled Dave to the window to show him another type of warbler, a full minute must have passed before the first word came out of his mouth.
"So," Dave finally said. He and Kurt were silhouetted against the picture window, their backs to Blaine, and Kurt still hadn't let go of Dave's wrist. Blaine's heart fluttered.
Dave handed the binoculars back to Kurt. "What is it called again?"
"A prothonotary warbler," Kurt said, raising the binoculars to his eyes one-handed, still not letting go of Dave's wrist.
It looked a little awkward. It probably would have been more comfortable to hold hands. Blaine bit his tongue to keep from suggesting it.
"I like the sound of that." Dave wasn't looking out the window now. He was watching Kurt. "But I probably won't remember it. Can I just call it a mango warbler? Because that's what it looks like. A peeled mango with wings."
"It does," Kurt said, lowering the binoculars from his eyes and holding them out to Dave. "Do you want them again? It hasn't flown off yet."
"Sure." Dave didn't take his eyes off of Kurt's until the binoculars were firmly in his hand.
Kurt let go of Dave's wrist, but he made up for the loss of contact by leaning his shoulder against Dave's upper arm. He turned his head toward Dave and started to chew his lower lip the way he does when he wants to be kissed but doesn't want to make the first move.
But Dave didn't see. He was looking out through the window with his binoculars.
After Dave left that afternoon and they were up in Blaine's bedroom, naked and sweating, fucking and being fucked, Blaine watched Kurt's face and thought about what it would be like to be Dave, seeing Kurt this way for the first time.
Blaine came before he could stop himself.
As soon as Dave walks through the front door on Monday and takes off his jacket – after he's said Hello but before he's brought his backpack into the kitchen – Blaine blurts out, "Are you in love with Kurt?"
"Do you want me to leave?" Dave says, his face shutting down into that old mask that Blaine has only seen a few times.
They're standing in the vestibule next to the front room, the Steinway in clear view, and no, Blaine doesn't want Dave to leave. He wants to take back what he just said and start over. He wants Dave to put his backpack in the kitchen and then play on the Steinway for a while as Blaine spreads his homework out on the counter. He wants to hear one of Schubert's waltzes, the lightness of the music lifting the heavy feeling from his stomach.
"No." Blaine shakes his head. "That was a really stupid thing for me to say. I was just – curious. It doesn't matter one way or the other, really." Which may be the biggest lie that he’s ever told. He shifts his feet, torn between fleeing to the kitchen or out the front door. But this is his house, and Dave is his guest, and no matter how embarrassed Blaine is at himself, making this okay is more important. "I'm sorry. I sometimes talk without thinking."
Dave's shoulders relax slightly. "I've noticed," he says, huffing a little so that it's almost a laugh. "That's not always a bad thing."
"Do you want to just step outside and I'll close the door and then I'll reopen it and we can start over?"
"No," Dave says. "I want a Mountain Dew."
* * *
It is kind of like starting over, though. When they get to the kitchen, Dave settles down at the counter to crack his books open. He doesn't say a word about what Blaine just said, and neither does Blaine. Blaine tosses him a Mountain Dew from the fridge, which Dave both loves and hates – he hates it because it shakes up the can and means he has to wait that much longer to open it; but he loves it because no matter how many times he's told Blaine to Just hand it to me, dude, Blaine forgets as often as he remembers. And there’s something endearing about that.
It's weird when the things that annoy you about someone become another of their charms.
Blaine settles in next to him and they both start their work. Dave studies silently, hoping the memory of Blaine's question will disappear from both their minds just as easily as Dave's memory of whether he put on striped or white athletic socks this morning has slipped from his. (He peers down at his ankle and tugs up his jeans leg until he spots the red and black stripes at his sock cuff. Striped. Okay.)
Blaine does not study silently. He's quiet when he's reading, but when he switches to French grammar and vocab, he makes up a little song as he goes:
Il se spécialise en boire Mountain Dew.
Je voudrais travailler pour un petit chouchou.
Elle se spécialise en caresse le chat.
Je me spécialise en être le célibat.
Je me spécialise en français à contrecœur.
Sébastian se spécialise en être un branleur.
Kurt sometimes puts earplugs in when he's reading and Blaine gets like this, but Dave likes to listen. His family is so quiet. It's a nice change of pace to have someone yammering away in the background. And since Dave doesn't understand French, he doesn't get distracted by the words. It's pleasant noise, and it helps drown out the incessant Are you in love with Kurt? that’s repeating in his head.
They work for an hour or so, occasionally punctuating the session with outbursts like, "It's so weird that presidents didn't used to have bodyguards," and, "Do people think Faulkner's a good writer just because he's confusing?"
When he gets the urge to throw As I Lay Dying at the refrigerator, Dave decides it's time for a break. He looks at Blaine. "Do you want to try playing that Poulenc duet? I’ve been practicing."
"Duet!" Blaine jumps to his feet. "That is the best idea I've ever heard! I've gotten pretty good at my part, I think."
It's a little awkward, at first. They're pressed against each other on the bench and almost as soon as the song begins, Blaine has to reach his left hand over Dave's right, and his arm stays stretched out in front of Dave's chest for a full page. It catches Dave by surprise – not the action; he's read the score and knew this was coming – but the strange feeling of intimacy that comes over him. It reminds Dave of the campouts he used to have every summer at the farm when he was little, all the prepubescent boys and girls piled into one family tent and waking up warm against each other in the chill of the morning.
They flub a lot. At first, Dave gets confused by the sound of so many notes together; later, as they fall into it, he gets so distracted by how good it sounds that sometimes he stops following the sheet music and loses his place.
They play the Prelude three times, and it's pretty clean the last time through – not art, but decent – before resetting the metronome and moving on to the Rustique, which is so much easier that Dave almost laughs with relief. Unlike Dave, who plays with his back ramrod straight because his teacher scolded him for anything else, Blaine puts his body into it, swaying a little as the melody passes back and forth between their hands. But the Finale is the best part by far. By now, they have a sense of each other, and they play the the parallel harmonies in such perfect time that Dave feels like his heart is going to burst.
The final notes are still vibrating in the air when Blaine pulls Dave in for a hug. "Kurt is going to faint when we play this for him."
All the joy of the music disappears at the sound of Kurt's name, replaced by a lead weight on Dave's chest. "Well, maybe we should practice a little more first," he says as Blaine pulls away.
"I won't object to playing this as many times as you want," Blaine says. "But we don't have to wait until we're perfect. Kurt likes seeing people get better at things."
The weight becomes heavier, pressing the air out of Dave's lungs. Words squeeze out that Dave doesn't intend to say. "About Kurt." He looks at his lap. "I – I don't know."
Dave feels Blaine’s hand on his shoulder, but he doesn't look up.
"I'm not sure what love is. But if I was in love, I think … I would know what it is." Dave ghosts his fingers over the keyboard, pressing the ivories so slowly that no sound comes out. "So I don't think I'm in love with Kurt."
"It's fine if you are. I mean, I would definitely understand."
The weight lifts a little; Dave can get a tiny bit more air in with each breath. "At first, I thought it was because he was the only out gay kid I knew."
Blaine makes no signs of surprise that Dave’s crush goes so far back. He just nods sympathetically and waits for Dave to continue.
"I thought if I met other gay guys, it would go away. When I started going to Scandals … it seemed to help. It helped me hate myself less. But when I ran into you guys last fall, it –” In his mind’s eye, Dave can see it perfectly: Kurt and Blaine walking into Scandals together, the way Kurt’s hips were tilted confidently, everything about him so perfectly self-possessed in a way that Dave has never learned to be. “It all came back. But I – I wasn’t even going to say hi, because he was comfortable around you in a way I'd never seen before. And I just – I really respect you for that. I really respect what you guys have. I wouldn't –"
Blaine squeezes Dave's shoulder. "I know."
"I see you guys and it makes me think maybe one day I can have something like that. And I couldn't have that with Kurt, I don't want to have that with Kurt, because I want you guys to be together. I mean, I still think he's stunning, and I love him in a way, and I think about him – Okay, I'm going to stop."
"I didn't mean to put you on the spot earlier. I've been watching you guys pussyfoot around each other for a while now and it just seems kind of – " Blaine sighs. "Frustrating."
Dave picks at the hole in the knee of his jeans. "I really like you guys. I mean, I'd thought I had friends before, but – I don't want to mess this up, but I'm messing it up, because I can't stop feeling this way about him. I should probably – " His throat constricts. "I should stop coming around."
Blaine puts his hand on top of Dave's, and Dave stills. "No."
Dave looks up at Blaine and he's never seen him look so – no, not angry. Not stern, exactly. Authoritative. Yes, that's it. He's never seen Blaine look so authoritative. There's this blaze in his eyes and this tension in the muscles of his face, but at the same time he’s exuding a strange sort of calm.
He looks a lot like Kurt at this moment, actually.
"No," Blaine repeats. "You're really important to us, Dave. I'd be really sad to lose you."
"But Kurt," Dave protests. "After everything I've put him through, it's such a –" Dave frees his hand from Blaine's and pulls it roughly through his own hair. "Violation."
He covers his face with shaking hands. He's so close to losing it, so he really should just shut the hell up now, but he can't seem to stop the words. "I never should have done this. When I saw you guys at Scandals that time, I should have stayed away. I tricked myself into thinking I could make up for some of it, but I was just being selfish and stupid."
The tears start with a sob – a big, stupid, desperate sob that's so loud he wouldn't be surprised to find he'd just sucked all the oxygen out of the room and Blaine asphyxiated right there, and then Dave would have taken yet another thing away from Kurt, made his life even more barren of hope than it was a year-and-a-half ago.
"So stupid." He blubbers, because that's what he is – a big, blubbering idiot.
He feels Blaine's hand rubbing up and down on his back, soft soothing strokes like the ones his father used to give him when he'd get a particularly stinging knee scrape.
"No, no," Blaine says, in a voice that's like shush and it'll all be better soon. Dave feels Blaine's forehead press into his shoulder. "I'm so glad we saw you there that night. You're my best friend. I care about you so much."
"But what about Kurt? This is about Kurt."
"I – I didn't tell Kurt I was going to talk to you about this. But I think it's okay if I say that ... I’m sure he suspects you're attracted to him."
The world is closing in on Dave Karofsky. Oxygen is disappearing; the edges of his vision go black. But somehow he still manages to bolt toward the front door and grab his jean jacket off its hook. His keys are in the pocket. He can come back for his books later. Or never. Whatever. He just needs to leave.
Dave puts his arm through the wrong sleeve because he's a freaking idiot and he takes it off and fumbles around for the right way but then he puts his other arm through the other wrong sleeve and fuck he is so fucking stupid and he doesn't need this jacket anyway, all he needs are the keys so –
"Don’t break his heart. I'll be the one who has to pick up the pieces."
Dave stops. The jacket is bunched up in his two fists, but suddenly the muscles in his hands don't feel like clenching anymore.
The jacket drops to the floor.
"Please." Blaine sounds like he's the one crying now.
Dave turns around. "I don’t understand."
"He's head over heels, Dave. Don't you see the way he looks at you?"
And now Dave's head is spinning, swimming with Kurt Kurt Kurt and his clear, expectant eyes – but that can't be what Kurt's expecting. It can't.
Blaine steps toward Dave, reaching for Dave's elbow – and when Dave doesn't flinch, he takes it. "Look, can we go to the kitchen? Please?"
Dave is through half of his Mountain Dew before he says anything. It's cold and the bubbles are sharp against the back of his tongue, like tiny needles stabs.
He's never had that feeling in a dream, and he doesn't remember tasting things in dreams, either. Maybe, occasionally, he'll smell something – a waft of autumn air or chicken roasting in the oven – but taste, no. And right now, he can taste that too-sweet lemon tang, feel the sugar coating his teeth. He knows if he doesn't brush them soon, his gums will start itching.
So this is real. All of this is real.
Blaine is standing across the counter from him, sipping a Coke Zero and tapping out a complex pattern against the counter with his free hand. It takes a minute for Dave to realize that he's repeating his fingerings for the Poulenc piece.
Hmm. Maybe this is a dream. He shouldn't know Blaine's fingerings like that, not already, when they've only played through it a few times.
Dave sets his can on the counter and swallows his burp.
Huh. Dave doesn't need to burp in dreams. This is definitely real.
Dave sighs. (The sinking of his chest feels real, too.) "Can you just start from somewhere, and keep talking? I feel like I'm … missing something."
Blaine's hand stills. "Like what?"
"Like, I'm not sure I understand what you've been trying to tell me. It sounds like you're saying that – " No, Dave has no clue what Blaine is saying. He might think he does, but no. "I can't even begin to try to say what I think you're saying."
"I wasn't planning to have this conversation today." Blaine sets his Coke down. "But I kind of put you on the spot and I don't really know what I thought was going to come out of it, so – "
Dave wants to tell Blaine to get to the point. He doesn't.
"Look." Blaine grabs the edge of the counter in both hands and leans forward. "I need to be clear about this. I love Kurt more than I ever imagined it was possible to love anyone. And just when I think I can't love him any more than I already do – well, I do."
Blaine looks at Dave like he's expecting him to say something. An acknowledgement, maybe. So Dave says, "I know."
"Okay. And you’re my best friend, and I care about you a lot. So I care about you both, but sometimes?” The muscles in Blaine’s forearms tense as he grips the counter's edge. “You two drive me crazy. You're so obviously into each other – I mean, the eyes. The smiles. The – just, everything."
"I'm sorry, I –"
"No." Blaine holds up his hand. "Not like that. Let me finish. It drives me crazy because it must be driving you both crazy. Like, seriously, last week with the prontothicating – the mango warbler. Kurt was holding onto your wrist for – what, like five minutes? Geez, hold each other's hands. Or make out. Or something. It's not a crime."
All the blood in Dave's veins is preparing to boil out of his ears. If Blaine ever, ever thought Dave would do that, that Kurt would do that –
Dave forces himself to remain calm, or at least give as much the appearance of it as he can through clenched teeth. "I'm not trying to take Kurt from you. And even if I wanted to, I'd totally fail. He's in love with you and maybe I haven't made it clear that it's not only how things are, but how I want them to be."
"I'm not making myself clear at all," Blaine says, staring down at the counter, and suddenly his hands sink to his sides, his body contracts, and the breath wooshes out of him like he's a leaking balloon. "I really suck at this." He takes a deep breath and looks up at Dave. "I'm not talking about cheating. I'm not talking about Kurt leaving me for you. Look. You and I both adore Kurt. And we both want him to be happy. And anything that makes Kurt happy makes me happy. And I kind of suspect it's the same for you."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you. That's why – "
Blaine puts up his hand to stop Dave. "So, if you want something with Kurt, and he wants it – which, duh, you both do – and you're comfortable with me still being in the picture because, frankly, I want to spend the rest of my life with him and get married and the whole nine yards, then – seriously. You have my blessing. You have more than that."
"Oh." It's all Dave can say. He thinks. He tries to come up with something. There must be words that exist for these kinds of situations. He doesn't know what they are.
So he looks at Blaine, and Blaine looks at him. If Dave looks half as exhausted as Blaine looks right now, he must look like shit.
The sound of the front door opening jars them from their trance.
"Hello!" Mrs. Anderson's voice calls from the front door. There's the shuffle of feet and fabric.
Blaine takes a sip from his Coke and mutters "Of all nights for her to come home early" under his breath before composing his face and calling back, "Hi, Mom! I was just finishing up studying with Dave."
"Does he want to stay for dinner? I can order pizza." She's taking her own pretty time doing whatever she's doing in the foyer. Thank god.
Dave nods at Blaine and heads toward the bathroom at the back of the kitchen. He should at least wash his face before she sees him – although hopefully he can get out of the house without her seeing him at all. "No, I should head home soon," he says, closing the door behind him.
Blaine, apparently, is planning his own escape. "Mom, I'm going upstairs for a second. I'll be back in a minute."
Dave hears Blaine's footsteps go out the back kitchen entrance and up the stairs.
"So which is it? A minute or a second?" she teases.
Dave turns on the tap and splashes cold water on his face. Parents think they're so fucking amusing. If they had any idea how complicated life is – But he's kind of glad they don't.
Dave leaves without saying goodbye to Blaine. He hears Mrs. Anderson walk down the basement stairs while he's still in the bathroom and he figures that's his chance to get out without her seeing that he's been crying.
As soon as he gets in the car, he sends Blaine a text.
Dave: I didn't storm out. I just didn't want your mom to see me like this.
At the traffic light, he hears his phone beep. He knows he shouldn't look, especially after what happened to Quinn, but he does.
Blaine: I'm sorry I'm so bad at this. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Or potentially ruin our friendship.
Dave turns off his phone so he's not tempted to text back, but he turns it back on as soon as he's parked in front of his house.
Dave: You didn't ruin our friendship.
We can pretend this never happened. We can go back to how things were.
Blaine: I can live with you and Kurt never acting on your unresolved romantic tension if that's what it takes for us to be friends. :)
I'm not at tragedy + time = comedy yet.
Dave: Maybe by tomorrow.
Blaine: So we can talk tomorrow?
Dave: Yes, tomorrow.
Blaine: I love you.
Dave: I love you too.
* * *
Blaine begs for forgiveness for two whole minutes before Kurt even has a clue what he's talking about.
"You're done with dinner, right? Good, you should be alone for this, because I really, really messed up. No, really. I'm so sorry Kurt, I wasn't thinking – I mean, I thought I was thinking but I wasn't thinking at all, and this is not how the book said to do things, and I should have talked to you first. I mean, I know we've been talking but I mean it's only been talking and we hadn't really talked about if we were actually going to do anything about it and we haven't talked about talking with him yet and I –"
"W-wait, Blaine." Before Blaine called, Kurt was absently filing his nails and watching Jersey Shore. Now he's pacing back and forth between his bed and his vanity. "Him. You said 'him.' You mean –"
"Dave." A guttural groan from Blaine's end of the line. "Just break up with me now. I'm the worst boyfriend ever."
"Yeah, no. I don't think so." He's about to try for humor – Best one I've ever had, at least – but decides that now is not the moment. He tries for calmly authoritative, instead. That usually works with Blaine.
"Blaine," Kurt says. "Can you take a deep breath and start over again? Just breathe and then tell me what happened. Okay?"
"I'm right here. I want to hear you breathe –" (Kurt picks a random number out of the air) "– five times, and then I want you to start from the beginning."
Blaine doesn't say anything. He inhales loudly, then exhales loudly. He sounds like a woman in a childbirth class. (Okay, so Kurt's never been in a childbirth class, but he's seen them on sit-coms.)
"One," Kurt says. He tries to make his voice hushed, to pack as much lull into that brief syllable as he can.
Blaine inhales, exhales again.
"Two." Kurt feels kind of silly counting out loud, but numbers tend to have a calming effect on Blaine. When he can't sleep, he counts sheep – literal, actual sheep, like in Brokeback Mountain, he explained to Kurt the first time it came up – walking through a gate. It usually works before he gets to 73 ("Seventy-three?" Kurt had asked – it seemed like such a random number).
By the time Kurt counts "five," Blaine's exhalations are less explosive. Kurt takes that as a sign that he's calming down.
"Okay. Are you ready to start from the beginning, Blaine?"
"Let's make it seven. Then I will."
They go to seven. It must be having a relaxing effect on Kurt, too, because by now he's no longer pacing the room. He's stopped next to his vanity chair, his hand clenching its back. "Okay. I'm ready whenever you are."
Blaine doesn't say anything at first. That's okay, Kurt reminds himself. It's better than the word-vomit he was spewing at the beginning of their conversation. The only problem, if it is a problem, is that it gives Kurt a chance to replay some of that word-vomit in his head, try to ascribe meaning to it, wonder exactly how Blaine fucked up (or thought he fucked up), and if the book he was talking about was that book, the book that Kurt had ordered from Amazon and lent to Blaine and that they had read through three times together since and what Blaine said to Dave and –
Stop it. Stop. It.
Kurt turns the chair so it's not facing the mirror and sits down, facing the white shelves at the end of his room. "I'm ready, Blaine. Please."
"I asked Dave how he felt about you."
"Oh," Kurt says. His stomach twists the way it did when his dad walked into Mr. Schuester’s class that day in February and Kurt thought that Blaine’s eye surgery had gone drastically wrong.
"I thought I could just ask him as his friend – be supportive, you know? And it was okay, at first, kind of. But then he thought I was trying to accuse him of something, and I tried to explain that I wasn't, and then – " Kurt hears a ragged breath. "And I probably explained more than I should have without talking to you first. Without you there."
Kurt is not going to let his mind play that scenario out in all its thousand possible permutations. "That's okay, Blaine." Kurt says it out of habit, but once he hears the words, he hopes there's a chance that they're true. "What exactly did you explain?"
"I didn't tell him anything we've talked about."
"Okay," Kurt says.
"He thought I was angry at him for having feelings about you – "
"Wait. So he does?" Kurt bites his lip. He didn't realize how tightly his shoulders were wound until just now, when they've begun to unwind.
"Of course he does, Kurt," Blaine says. "I mean, maybe I shouldn't be telling you that he said so, maybe that's his job. Ugh, I should really pay more attention to what the book says, I've only read it, like, four times."
"It's okay. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Go on."
"He thought I was angry at him for having feelings about you."
"And he started to leave and I stopped him. I said – " Blaine pauses. "I'm sorry, we haven't talked about this and I know you're not really sure how you feel, but I just said what I thought was true."
"That you’re smitten with him."
"Oh." Kurt slumps back in his chair and his eyes fall on the silver ampersand sculpture on his shelf. He found it while shopping at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store with Mercedes back before he even came out. He's always liked the structure and shape of the ampersand, but something more struck him when he found it crowded among the dull green-glass vases and artificial flower arrangements at the back of the store.
He'd woken up that morning, like he did most mornings at that point in time, with the sure knowledge that his life was at a dead end. That he had nothing to look forward to, that he was just repeating the same old comforts to distract himself from how meaningless everything had become. The day before had been another glee club practice where he’d been forced to sit and listen to Rachel sing something that he could do much better. This day would be another thrift store shopping trip where he'd madly search for treasure and find nothing, because no one in Lima would ever donate a McQueen jacket to St. Vinny's, because none of them had enough taste to buy one in the first place.
But he'd been wrong. He found a treasure. Not a McQueen, but something lovely just the same. Mercedes teased him as they walked out of the store and he reached into his bag, not being able to wait until they were back at his house to turn the ampersand in his fingers, feel its curves and its hard edges and its promise.
Yes. That's what it was. A promise. He couldn't explain it to Mercedes – he didn't even have the words for it himself – but the ampersand was promising him something. It was telling him that "and" was a tangible reality; that there was more yet to come. His life would come, if he worked and waited for it.
And life came to him, and keeps coming to him, in so many beautiful and unexpected ways. He came out to his dad, and Rachel admitted he was as good as her and maybe even better, and he found Blaine. (Or did Blaine find him? He's never sure which it is.) He planned a wedding and he got a brother and his father got a wife. He loved and lost a canary, but Blaine filled the empty space in his heart.
And then there was Dave, his transformation, his becoming – and somehow Kurt's heart grew a new empty space to be filled.
"Kurt?" Blaine's voice reaches through Kurt's thoughts.
"It's okay," Kurt says. "What you said was … true."
Blaine sighs. "He knows that I'm fine with wherever things go. I mean, we didn't really talk about it much, but he knows."
"I – " Kurt pauses. "I think I'd like to call him tonight. Just to – to say my part, I guess. Do you think that's a bad idea?"
"I think that's a great idea, Kurt. I think he could really stand to hear your voice right now."
Dave shouts a cursory "I'm home" when he walks in the front door and immediately heads for the first-floor bathroom to splash his face again with the coldest water he can stand. It doesn't help. He’s still red-eyed and worn.
He can hear his mother walking around upstairs, and smell garlic and tomato – probably lasagna – wafting from the kitchen. Dinner is going to be awkward if he still looks like this in half an hour.
He needs to think of what Kurt would do. Kurt drops beauty tips into conversation like other guys drop sports metaphors, and Dave tends to remember them all – not because he plans to use them, but because it startles him every time, how Kurt can know so much about things that Dave has hardly thought about before: skin care and bird species and ululating and removing grape juice stains from a white shirt. Kurt used to tell him, last spring when they had just started the PFLAG group and Dave was at his most hopeless, that there was a whole world out there that Dave hadn't even imagined, that was so different from what he'd known all his life, and so much better. And when Kurt talks about these things that Dave's never heard of – last Thursday it was sergers and batiste and jacquard and a bunch of other words that Dave jotted down in the margins of his physics notebook to look up later, and most of which he spelled wrong – he feels like he's getting a glimpse of the world that's going to be his home one day.
Dave fishes out a couple of teabags from the kitchen pantry and drops them in a small glass of ice water before bringing them up to his room. He sets the glass on the floor and turns his mp3 player to John Cage's "Dream," wrings the teabags, sinks back against his pillow, and presses them over his closed eyes.
He massages his temple and jaw line the way he heard Kurt explain to Rachel once over the phone. It feels good, surprisingly so, almost as if they were someone else's fingers against his skin.
Dave hears the front door open and his father hollers that he's home. Two cycles of "Dream" later, his mother is calling for him to wash his hands. He takes the teabags off his eyes and crosses the room to look in the mirror. He doesn't look fresh as the morning dew, but he doesn't look much more worn than he usually does after a long day at school.
He almost texts Kurt to thank him for the beauty tip, but he stops himself. He should probably say something else, too, but he doesn’t know what.
At dinner, his dad comments that Dave seems a little distracted and asks if everything is okay at school. When Dave responds with an automatic "Yes, fine," his dad asks again and Dave goes into longer detail with, "No one cares anymore as long as they don't have to dress next to me in the locker room," and his mother gasps "David!" as if he said he's been giving one-dollar blowjobs to every member of the baseball team.
But Paul Karofsky is satisfied with the answer, and as far as Dave is concerned, that's all that counts anymore.
* * *
Over the past few weeks, Kurt has started a dozen random text messages to send to Dave. (Blaine helped me make a YouTube playlist of the piano songs you play at his house.—My dad came home in a blue baseball cap today. Did he steal it from you? I feel like my worlds are colliding.—So you know about WWII fighter planes, but do you know anything about early passenger planes? I have this brooch, and I'm not sure it's historically accurate.) But his thumb always hits "delete" instead of "send."
Last week, he accidentally hit “send” before he could delete what he'd written (Blaine and I have been singing "Fidelity" all afternoon but it's missing something, and I just realized it's your voice), and he was so freaked out that he almost took his seam ripper to the vest he’d been altering for non-prom. But somehow Blaine managed to channel Kurt’s energy into desperate making-out by the time that Dave buzzed back with Regina Spektor? I love that song. She makes me want to learn how to play pop on the piano. And then the desperate making-out turned sweet and hungrily tender, and Kurt came with barely a touch.
Kurt turns on his phone and selects Dave's name from the menu before hitting send. It's a good thing that Kurt only needs his thumb for this, because his hand is trembling so hard he can't even keep the phone still.
Dave answers on the second ring. "Kurt?"
"Dave." Kurt hadn't planned what to say because, if there's one thing he's good at, it's thinking on his feet.
Except that, right now, he has no idea what to say.
"Kurt? You there?"
Kurt opens his mouth, hoping that will coax something to come out. It works. A little. "Yeah. I –"
Another silence. Maybe Kurt can just pretend the phone reception went dead.
"I'm glad you called," Dave says. "I was ... thinking about you."
"Good thoughts?" Kurt means it to sound flirty and confident, but instead it sounds kind of weak and afraid-of-having-one's-dreams-shattered.
"Well, I – You've talked to Blaine?"
"Yeah. He didn't tell me much, though. Just that – I guess he let slip that I'm, um –” Kurt sucks in a breath. “Crazy about you?"
Dave's silent for a second. "Yeah, well, Blaine's kind of – he sees things that aren't there sometimes."
"No," Kurt says. "I mean, yes. Sometimes. But –" Kurt darts his tongue nervously across his lips. It's like sandpaper against his skin. "He's not seeing things this time. Everything he sees is real. It's there."
Another pause. "Kurt – this has been a crazy day. I don't think – maybe we should talk later."
"Nonono." The floodgates suddenly open, the words rushing out of Kurt's mouth. "I – I need you to know. Please. I need to talk about this. It's been building up and building and every time I look at you it's just – so much."
Silence on the other end. Maybe Dave's hung up. Kurt keeps going, anyway. "I didn't know things could be like this. I'm in love with Blaine and I can't stop thinking about you, but that doesn't mean I want to stop being with Blaine – I don't think I could ever stop being with Blaine – I love Blaine and it's not fair to you because I keep touching you because I can't not touch you but it's not fair, you don't need that, you deserve to have someone of your own, you've never even really had a boyfriend unless you count that boring Mennonite and –"
"Kurt." Dave is still there. He hasn't hung up. "I don't want someone of my own. I've tried, but none of them are you."
Oh fuck. Here they are. Tears. Kurt gets off the bed and flicks the lights off so he won't accidentally catch his reflection in the vanity mirror.
"But I don't deserve you, Kurt. I don't even deserve to be your friend. This whole time we've been hanging out, I've been waiting for you to see that."
Kurt interrupts. "We've talked about that, Dave. The past is past."
"No. We haven't. I mean, yes, the past. But not – even without the past, I'm still me. I'm still – I guess I'm good at some things, but I'm not whip-smart like you – like, I'm not funny and I would flunk out of most of my classes if spell-check didn't exist and it takes me years to figure out obvious things like I'm gay. And I'm overweight and –"
"Waitwaitwait. Stop. First off, I'm not funny, I'm sarcastic, and I couldn't stand to hang out with anyone who was as cutting as me because of the competition. Second, I don't care how well you spell, even though I honestly haven't noticed it being a problem. Third, of course it took you years to figure out you were gay because pretty much everyone in this society is raised to think that they're straight until proven otherwise. I mean, it took me a while to figure out even though I drew hearts all over Marcus Kramer's yearbook pictures in first grade. And lastly – you're beautiful, Dave."
"Look, I could go into all the objective things like you're supposed to be that big for football and most of your extra weight is muscle mass and that you shouldn't insult a body that does so well for you – but fuck it. Because that would just be hiding what I really think, which is that you're beautiful and I get overwhelmed when I look at you. I mean, you already know how I feel about your eyebrows, but your face, Dave, and when you smile I can barely breathe sometimes it makes me so happy, and from a purely objective standpoint your teeth, and the hair on your forearms is just – I can't even –"
"Dave. You're the bravest person I know, and I know you want to protest and say no, you hid in the closet and you used to throw me into lockers and torment the whole glee club. But to me, you're brave because you had the courage to stop doing those things, and to change even when you still hated yourself, even when you were terrified of what other people would think."
"When I look in the mirror, I just see someone who has no idea what he's doing."
"No one does. No one. But you try to do the right thing anyway. You're kind and you're gentle and your heart is huge and you're a goddamn math genius, and when you play piano it's like singing, and you're honest and brave and you're Blaine's closest friend. And that takes something, because as friendly as he is he usually doesn't let people in past a certain point. And he's let you in. He trusts you, and he's comfortable with you, and there are so few people in the world I can say that about. And I do, too. I trust you, Dave. As much as I trust Blaine."
"No, I need to keep going. I've been avoiding this for too long. Just let me keep going, okay?"
"I want you. I want you in my life and I don't even know how to ask for that because I'm already in love with someone else and I have no plans to leave him and you and I are both leaving for college in the fall and I've been carrying your Webelos scarf around with me since December – "
"Wait. My Webelos scarf?"
"You wrapped the cake topper in it when you gave it back to me last year."
"No, I remember. I just thought – I assumed you would just throw it away."
"No. I remembered when we met in Figgins' office and your dad mentioned how you'd been a Cub Scout and he looked so proud of you and you looked almost like you were going to cry from that pride. I couldn't have thrown it away."
Kurt thinks he hears Dave crying on the other end of the phone. He wants to wrap his arms around him and pull his face to his shoulder and let the tears soak into his dry-clean-only shirt. But he can't, so he just keeps talking.
"I don't know how it happened, but I want you and Blaine both in my life, and Blaine wants it to. And I know it's more than any reasonable person would ever ask and so I can't even ask it of you. I just needed to tell you. And I hope we can still be friends. Because I need that more than anything. And I'll start keeping my hands to myself. I haven't been practicing a lot of self-control in that area lately. I'm sorry."
"No. Don't – don't do that. I like it when – I like your hands."
Kurt looks down at his free hand and curls his fingers into his palm. He touches the tips of his index finger and thumb together into a circle, extending the rest of his fingers into a sign language "f." He opens his palm and studies the lines and divots there. He wonders which one is his love line, and how many people appear on it.
"Dave, I'm sorry if I've said too much. It's – you know me, once I get going I can't keep my mouth shut."
"I'm kind of ... overwhelmed."
"Yeah." Kurt sighs. "We don't – we don't have to do anything. You don't have to reciprocate."
Whatever Kurt's expecting, it's not the chortle he gets from the other end of the line. "Um, I was reciprocating even before you were, I'm pretty sure."
With anyone else, Kurt would correct the misuse of “reciprocating.”
Dave is not anyone else.
"God, I want to kiss you senseless." Did that really just come out of Kurt's mouth? Apparently, it did.
"Kurt, this isn't – no one ever told me things could be this way."
Kurt rests his palm against his jeans, smoothing the fabric against his thigh in small strokes. "Yeah. The natives have deceived us."
"Kurt – I think I need to think for a few days."
"We can still talk, I just –"
"I understand. It's okay."
"Kurt, I need to tell you something."
"Yeah," Kurt says. "I haven't really given you a word in edgewise. What is it?"
"That Saturday, when we were driving back from the river, I was so – I think it was the happiest I've been in a long time. And I couldn't figure it out. Because a lot of what was making me happy was watching you and Blaine together all evening. Because you’re my best friends and it feels good to see two people that I love in love with each other. It makes me feel safe."
Kurt starts to cry again. Damn his overproductive lacrimal glands. He'll never be able to leave his room again tonight unless he wants Finn asking a million questions. (Which he does not, duh.)
"And the other part that was making me happy was being with you," Dave says, and fuck, more tears. "It just felt right dancing with you, and being by the river, and sitting in the car next to you. It felt that way when Blaine was there and when Blaine wasn't. And I couldn't figure out how, on one hand, I could know that Blaine is perfect for you and enough for you, and on the other hand, I wanted to belong to you, too."
Kurt completely loses it at that. The tears run down his face faster than his fingers can catch them, curling over his jaw and down his neck into the collar of his shirt.
"Kurt, are you okay? I didn't mean – I'm sorry if that was too much."
Kurt sniffles, the tears thick and burning at the back of his throat. "No, Dave, it's not too much. It's perfect."
Dave hardly sleeps that night, and he walks around school in a daze on Tuesday. Nobody really seems to notice except for the girls at lunch, because nobody really notices Dave in general. That's how he likes it.
He drinks twice as much Mountain Dew as usual, which helps him stay awake through classes, but he skips intramural baseball after school and goes straight home to bed, where he sleeps for three hours.
When he awakes, he's surprised to find that Kurt isn't on the bed next to him. He was lying there in Dave's dreams all afternoon, his head against Dave's heart and his hair catching the sun in red sparks. Kurt's hair smelled of lemon and sage, and his breath was warm through the thin cotton of Dave's t-shirt. Dave had one arm wrapped around Kurt's back and Blaine had an arm draped across Kurt's waist, the backs of his fingers grazing Dave's stomach.