Life is a series of happy accidents and near misses.
A woman forgets her keys and misses an audition for a role that would have made her famous. A young man picks a random class to fulfill a distribution requirement in college and is inspired to follow a whole new career path. A scientist accidentally leaves a petri dish open and discovers something that saves millions of lives.
Or the Browns keep their pool open an extra week, Puck catches Mrs. Brown’s cold, and he stays home sick for a day instead of being in school to suggest that Kurt should go to Dalton to spy on the Warblers as a way to make him stop trying to organize the week’s Glee Club assignment.
So Kurt doesn’t.
Two boys don’t meet on a staircase. They can barely be said to meet in high school at all.
Kurt Hummel doesn’t speak to Blaine Anderson beyond a polite handshake between competitors after New Directions wins the show choir Sectionals Kurt’s junior year. Blaine Anderson doesn’t notice Kurt Hummel beyond being impressed by his brief solo during the performance. Their eyes don’t linger on each other beyond an extra two seconds.
Kurt doesn’t confront Karofsky in the locker room, he doesn’t transfer from McKinley because his life isn’t explicitly threatened, and he doesn’t find acceptance and understanding in a gay friend and boyfriend. He doesn’t find companionship to ward off his loneliness and isolation. He doesn’t find love.
Blaine doesn’t gain a best friend who challenges him and sees through his carefully crafted exterior, he doesn’t learn about what it truly means to be in love, and he doesn’t transfer away from Dalton. He doesn’t find someone who accepts him for his insecurities and flaws. He doesn’t find himself.
One little change, a near miss instead of a happy accident.
Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson don’t become friends. They don’t become boyfriends. They don’t support each other through bullying, through proms, through fears and disappointments, through different schools, through reaching for their dreams, through the first fumbling steps of love and all that comes after.
They don’t become Kurt-and-Blaine.
This is what happens instead.
* * *
New York City, September 2013
Standing at the top of a short flight of granite steps, Blaine looked out over the quad, its manicured grassy green expanse covered by countless tables with colorful posters and banners and at least a hundred students meandering between them, and decided with a buzz of excitement that made his stomach flip that college was officially awesome. If this was just the new student activity fair where the various student organizations came out to try to encourage freshmen to join, he could only imagine all of the other opportunities he was going to have here beyond what was represented today.
Dalton had been nothing in comparison to what he saw here, and Dalton had been amazing. Dalton had given him the chance to be safe, the chance to shine, and the chance to spread his wings in so many directions.
Dalton had gotten him here, to college, to New York, and now the whole world was ahead of him. New opportunities. New friends. A whole city of guys who didn’t have a hidden agenda or fifteen, who could be honest about what they valued and wanted. Guys whose idea of fun wasn’t to manipulate, demean, and hurt the people around them for their own gain.
A whole city full of guys who weren’t Sebastian Smythe.
I can't believe you're getting that excited about New York, Blaine could hear Sebastian's bored drawl in his mind. That's so provincial it's not even cute. It's not like it's Paris or Singapore, Blaine. It's not even in a different time zone.
Blaine shook his head, pushed away those thoughts with a firm hand, and skipped down the steps to the quad. He wasn’t going to think about his ex-boyfriend. The pain of the way he'd felt in that relationship was all behind him. He'd learned from it, he was finally in college, and he was going to dive in. It was going to be incredible.
That was the whole point of being here: new experiences, new opportunities, and a new start without all of the baggage his last year and a half at Dalton had given him.
By the time he reached the last row, Blaine had collected a sizeable stack of papers and leaflets for groups that looked interesting, and he’d written his name and new college e-mail address down on sign-up sheets for the LGBT Alliance, the intramural Ultimate Frisbee league, the community outreach opportunity mailing list, and auditions for two a cappella groups. He passed by the sheets for the more traditional choral group and the flash mob society; he wasn’t going to have time for everything, not with homework, too. He kind of didn’t understand the point of an organized flash mob club, anyway, as fun as it sounded.
A neatly printed banner on a table near the end of the row caught his eye: The Independent Student Review: a student-run night of theater and music. A smaller sign on the tabletop read Show us why you’re a star! All majors and years are welcome!
Blaine drifted over and found himself drawn to the collage of photos that made up the center of the display on the table. There were shots of various students singing, dancing, and acting on what had to be one of the small stages in the school, and there were also a number of candid photos of guys and girls mugging for the camera backstage, putting on makeup, painting sets, and just generally having a good time. It looked like fun. It looked like a family. He had dozens upon dozens of pictures on his computer with a similar feeling from his first few years in the Warblers.
Still, he was a little confused. “I thought each department already held its own review,” he said to the student behind the table.
The young man looked up from the book he was reading and blinked at him with impossibly clear blue-green eyes. He seemed surprised Blaine had interrupted him, which was kind of odd because obviously he was there manning the booth so people could talk to him.
“They do,” he said. He had a light, musical voice and was wearing a pair of tight jeans, a long-sleeved charcoal shirt, and a fitted vest in a lighter shade of grey, despite the heat of the late summer day. A substantial and highly detailed brooch in the shape of two crossed rapiers was pinned to the vest over his heart. He gave Blaine an impersonal once-over from head to toe; Blaine felt suddenly under-dressed in his cargo shorts and polo shirt, and he was vaguely jealous of the boy's confidence in being set apart by his style. “This is for those of us whose talents either don’t fit into the tidy boxes set forth by the school’s academic divisions or are overlooked because we aren’t yet upperclassmen.”
Blaine hadn’t had to deal with feeling sidelined when he was first at Dalton, because he’d risen so fast in the Warblers, but it made sense. “What about those of us who just like to be on stage as much as possible?” he asked.
“That would be all of us.” The corners of the boy’s mouth lifted into a grin. It took a bit of the gloss off of his perfection and made him look real for the first time.
Blaine decided he was really going to like college if he was going to be able to spend time with attractive guys like this all day. He was going to have so many options. He wasn't going to get caught in the same trap he'd fallen for in high school, getting stuck in the stifling bonds of a relationship because he thought it was the only healthy way to express himself. Now he could just enjoy himself and be free.
“Well, then,” Blaine said, “sign me up." He picked up the pen and wrote his name and e-mail on the audition sheet with a flare of satisfaction at finding yet another group that shared some of his passions. Even if one or two of these clubs didn't pan out, he'd have other choices. It wasn't like there was only one place he could perform here, unlike at Dalton.
“Auditions are in two weeks; we’ll e-mail you the schedule and more information about it. Even if you don’t get a performance spot, we can always use more hands behind the scenes. It takes a lot to put this kind of show on.”
“Oh, I bet I’ll get a spot,” Blaine said with a wink and a confident grin he was determined to feel. He knew he was good at what he did. He’d kept his position as the front man of the Warblers, after all, despite everything that had happened with Sebastian; he had every chance of succeeding here, too.
The other boy’s smile disappeared as his eyebrows rose. “This may only be our second year, but competition will be fierce,” he said, cool once more. “You'll have to bring your A-game - “ He glanced down to read the sign-up sheet upside-down. “ - Blaine.”
Blaine automatically kept his smile in place and filed away his mis-step for future memory. Right. This wasn’t Dalton; he was going to have to build his reputation step-by-step, not just maintain it through hard work and pretending he wasn't worried. Performing in a student review his first semester seemed like a great way to start. “Thank you for the advice. I always do...” He raised his own eyebrows and held out his hand.
“Kurt.” They shook hands; Kurt’s skin was soft, but his grip was firm. “You’ll hear from Tina, our membership coordinator, within the week.” And with that Kurt went back to his book, dismissing Blaine without another word.
* * *
Blaine logged into Facebook to add a few new friends he'd made on his hall and found his timeline filled with pictures of familiar Warblers' faces in unfamiliar surroundings; they were moving into their new universities just like he was. There were names he didn't know already commenting on their posts and tagged in their photos. Something in his chest tightened uncomfortably, like he was being left out, even though that was ridiculous because he couldn't be left out of other people moving into their own dorms across the country. He couldn't be left out by them at all anymore.
Squaring his jaw, he uploaded the picture he and his roommate, Rob, had taken that morning of themselves sitting in their open window with cups of coffee raised in a toast. He was settling in, too. He was moving forward. He life wasn't only about the Warblers anymore, and that was a good thing.
* * *
The first organization to send Blaine a welcoming e-mail was the LGBT Alliance the next day; they were having an informal gathering that night for the new freshmen hosted by the older students who were around for sports or activity pre-season.
Blaine thought it was a smart idea, actually, given that going to a big new school had to be daunting for most kids, and new roommates who might not be tolerant could add another stress. Rob seemed cool about it, but then Blaine had been clear on his housing forms about his orientation.
So even though Blaine wasn’t worried about being out in a new place, he decided to go to show his support of the organization. Besides, the only person he knew in New York was Wes a few years ahead at Columbia, so it was time to make some new friends. It would be good to connect with other gay students, too. He just hoped he wouldn't seem too small-town in comparison; Sebastian had certainly laughed at him about being unworldly more times than Blaine could count. Blaine had no idea if he was going to make a fool of himself without even knowing it.
He'd just have to be friendly, watch what other people were saying and doing, and hope for the best.
The meeting was being held in one of the activity rooms in the student center, known as the Union, and the bland inspirational posters and selection of soft drinks and cookies on the side counter reminded Blaine of his church youth group gatherings from middle school. The people in the room, though, did not. There were about a dozen students sprawled on the couches and on the floor, and there was room for plenty more. Most were in shorts and t-shirts, but the girl with the spiked magenta hair and the guy wearing a batik caftan with dreadlocks halfway down his back made it clear just how far away from high school in Ohio Blaine was. It was a whole new world.
Maybe he had been naïve in high school, but he could tell he wasn't going to be for long.
Blaine’s smile was genuine with his excitement as one of the boys got up from a chair by the door and came over, his hand extended. “Hi. I’m Peter,” he said. He was tall and had hair as fair as straw with bangs that threatened to fall into his eyes. He flicked them back with a toss of his head.
“Blaine.” He shook Peter’s hand.
“Are you here for the LGBT Alliance?”
“Yes. Am I in the right place?”
Peter smiled at him and replied, “You are. Come on. Let me introduce you around before everybody else shows up and all anyone wants to talk about is what and who - and what with who - they did over the summer.”
The mention of “what with who” made Blaine laugh with the surprise of it, because Blaine’s friends at Dalton had been completely open to his orientation and still had never wanted to hear details, and Peter said, “Oh, you can’t even imagine the amount of gossip you’re going to hear tonight. Just nod, smile, laugh in the right places, and try to remember it all; there won’t be a quiz, but I promise you it’ll come in handy later. In a month, you’re going to thank me when you’ve managed to avoid some of the crazier guys around here.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Blaine said.
“I’m happy to help out.” Peter’s smile lingered just a little longer than necessary, and Blaine felt a familiar prickle of awareness flit up his spine. He was used to it from Sebastian or the guys who’d danced with him when the two of them had been out at a club, but it was nice from a cute college guy, too. It was good to be sure he’d have options here in New York, no matter that he was only from Ohio.
Peter was right that Blaine heard a ton of stories about people he didn’t know over the course of the next few hours as he drank generic soda and chatted with the other students; he wasn’t sure who Hunter was, but after the first thirty minutes in the company of the upperclassmen he was sure he wanted nothing to do with him. Most of the people there were new freshmen, though, and it was comforting to find himself around other students who were finding their world was suddenly so much bigger than it had been in high school.
In fact, it was eye-opening to him how many opportunities he’d had at Dalton that even kids from more liberal states hadn’t been able to experience. He’d been able to be out in high school, he’d had a boyfriend, and he’d had sex. Dalton had given him all of that. He wasn’t the only one by a long shot who had that sort of history coming into college, but some of them were just dipping their toes into the water of being able to be out without too much fear. He wasn’t behind the curve. He'd be able to fit in.
That unexpected realization was such a relief that it was even easier to shrug off the ghost of Sebastian's disdain, relax, and talk with all of the new people around him.
By about ten o’clock, students started drifting out, and when Becca, a tiny and intensely perky freshman who shared his passions for pop music and the films of Ewan McGregor, yawned her excuses and said she should get back to bond with her roommates, Blaine looked around and noticed most of the people sitting around were the older members of the group. He figured they were staying for the new students, so he stood up and threw his cup in the trash. He didn’t want to keep them.
“Hey,” Peter said, breaking off from a group when Blaine passed by on his way to the door. “Thanks for coming tonight.”
“Thanks for having us. It was nice to be able to meet other students like this.”
“And you were great. I mean, a lot of us were really nervous our first time here. It was a big deal. But you weren’t, and you made people comfortable.”
Blaine shrugged at the compliment, a little uneasy by it because he hadn’t been doing anything but showing an interest. “Thanks. I guess I just like meeting people.”
Peter glanced over at the other students, who were starting to gather up their belongings. “Look, we’re going back to Jason’s room to hang out for a while. There’ll be some beer and stuff, but it’s not really a party. Just a chance to hang out, catch up, be little looser than we can be here. You’re welcome to come.”
Blaine kept the smile easy on his face, even though he felt a surge of satisfaction at being included. College was already so much better than his last year at Dalton. “I wouldn’t want to intrude or - “
“Nah, you aren’t. You won’t even be the only freshman. But no pressure,” Peter assured him, and he really did seem to mean it. “I know it’s a lot of new people, a lot to take in.”
“No, that sounds great.”
So Blaine ended up in a group of about fifteen students in a two-room upperclassmen’s suite. Jason’s roommate hadn’t moved in early for pre-season, so the bare extra bed and desk became seating and a makeshift bar for a bunch of cheap beer. Blaine took a bottle when it was offered to him, and by the time he was halfway through his second he’d made friends with Jason, who was one of the leaders of the Alliance, Meg and Julie, a lesbian couple with the kind of unexpectedly raunchy sense of humor that shocked him as much as it made him laugh, and Tim, the student with the caftan who was somehow Pre-Med. They were all so easy to talk to, and even when he didn't understand their stories from past years Blaine found himself laughing along or storing up lessons for the future.
Blaine excused himself from Tim when his bottle was empty, and he met Peter at the desk-bar. “Hi!” he said, smiling widely at his new friend as the room swam a little around them. He was making lots of new friends. He liked friends, especially when they seemed to like him back. Even beer was better in college, probably because of the warmth of the company if not the kind of sticky warmth of the room. He took a drink from his newest bottle. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“Having fun?” Peter asked.
“Yeah. You guys are great,” Blaine replied. They were. They were all cool people, they were out, and they were even better than Blaine had imagined college kids could be when he’d been lying in his bed at home at night, sad and frustrated.
“Yeah, we are.” Peter’s eyes sparkled, and the room seemed to glow around him from the beer in Blaine's system. He loved that, how when he was drinking everything seemed that much better, like he could ignore all of the bad stuff and just focus on the things he liked the most.
“This is way more fun than the couple of PFLAG meetings I went to in Ohio.”
“Yeah, I never went to one of those where they served beer.” Peter raised his bottle, and he and Blaine toasted each other before drinking.
“Where did you grow up?”
“Connecticut,” Peter replied. “Eastern Connecticut. The uncool part. The NASCAR part.”
“I don’t think there’s any cool part of Ohio.” Blaine thought for a second. “Maybe Columbus. Parts of it.”
“And that’s why we all came to New York. To be somewhere cool.”
“With beer.” They toasted again. This was also way better than a night out at Scandals, if only because there were no sad-looking drag queens and older guys drooling over Sebastian, who sure had never stopped them.
“So... did you leave behind a boyfriend, Blaine-from-Ohio?” Peter asked.
“No. I had one, but - “ Blaine shrugged; he didn’t want to think about Sebastian, and he sure didn’t want to talk about him. It would only tarnish how nicely the night was turning out. “It ended badly. The whole thing was kind of bad, actually, in retrospect. But he’s long behind me. I’m a free man.” It felt good to say it. It felt even better to be it, like his heart was floating in his chest and his feet were an inch off the ground. “Totally free," he said with a laugh he couldn't quite hold back.
Peter smiled, and his eyes dropped to Blaine’s mouth for a long moment. Blaine could feel his heartbeat begin to race at the attention. He knew what it meant, and that felt good, too. Someone wanted him. Peter, who was cute and nice and not Sebastian, wanted him. “Well, then. Want to walk me to my dorm?”
Blaine pushed off from the wall and said, “Sure.”
They didn’t have sex as soon as they got to Peter’s single. They split a can of soda and talked for a while, Peter played him an EP of his favorite unsigned local band, Blaine told him about singing with the Warblers, they discussed dining halls and dorm room design, and then Peter very gently pushed him back down on the bed and got his mouth on Blaine's throat and his hand in Blaine’s shorts.
Blaine ignored any lingering voices from the past and very, very happily went with it.
Forty-five minutes later, Blaine pulled his clothes back on, his body loose and warm from the excellent handjob, and he smiled down at Peter, who was still lying naked on his messy bed. “Thanks,” Blaine said, leaning down for another kiss that turned into something more sultry and dirty than he expected. A part of him considered staying for more, because he loved kissing, and if it turned into more...
No. More was a dangerous thought. The tempting idea of more leading to Peter’s mouth wrapped around him wasn’t enough to stave off the flash of panic at the idea of things getting any more complicated between them. They’d had fun, and now it was time to go. That was the whole point. That was what they both wanted. They hadn't talked about anything more. They'd made no promises beyond a temporary yes. That was it. A temporary, healthy, safe mutual connection. It was simple when he thought of it like that.
“Yeah,” Peter replied with an easy smile when he let his hands release Blaine’s hair. “That was great. Any time you want to take the edge off, text me.”
Blaine patted his pocket to make sure he had his wallet and phone and tried not to show any of the anxiety that spiked through him at the offer. He didn't - he couldn't - he didn't want - not again, not after -
“Thanks,” he said with his politest smile to cover the panic, because he didn't want to be in any way hurtful, “but I’m really not looking for anything serious.”
“Yeah, neither am I.”
Much of Blaine’s worry lifted; he hadn’t read the initial situation wrong. This was just friendly. This was just fun. That was what he wanted. “Great. I’m sorry if that sounded rude.”
Peter laughed and shook his head. “That’s sweet,” he said and had no idea how much unwelcome bitterness flooded through Blaine at hearing that word. It was never a compliment. “Don't worry about it. See you ‘round, Blaine. Welcome to New York.”
Blaine let himself out, and as he walked down the city street toward his own dorm the tension lifted from his shoulders. He couldn’t contain his grin. Yes, Peter had been hot and had done amazing things with his hands, but Blaine had also just proven to himself that he could get what he wanted out of college.
One good thing he'd learned from Sebastian was that he liked sex. He liked guys - the way they looked, the way they felt, the way they tasted and smelled and sounded. He was gay, he was proud of it, and he liked expressing it. He didn’t want to be a monk and give all that up.
But the last thing he wanted was another relationship. He didn’t want the tension. He didn’t want the oppressive burden of trying to make another person happy. He didn't want to let anyone down. He didn’t want to feel judged, like he couldn’t measure up, or like a stepping stone. He didn't want to give his heart to another person who didn't want it or him, not who he really was. He didn't want to play that game again. What little he'd get from it wasn't worth it.
And now that he was in New York with so many guys who didn't have an agenda beyond wanting to have a good time the same way he did, he didn’t have to do anything but enjoy himself. And he had. Peter had, too. Blaine wasn't going to get hurt, and neither was anyone else. It was so simple, the way it should be. He was free.
College was going to be great.
* * *
“No,” Kurt told Tina.
“But - “
“No.” He adjusted his tie in the mirror above his dresser and sprayed his hair again to keep it in place; the air was thick and humid in the way only the very end of the summer in New York City could be, and he wasn't going to let it get the best of him. Just because he'd spent the summer in the black hole of style that was Lima didn't mean his personal standards had relaxed any.
“Kurt, I just got to New York four days ago,” she said from her spot on his bed. He was going to have to straighten it before he left for class; he hated coming back to rumpled bedding. “I’m barely moved in. I can’t find my way around campus without a map. How am I supposed to run the auditions alone?”
“You don’t have to do it alone,” he said, “but I can’t help you. Ask Angelica. Ask Ben. No, don’t ask Ben, he’ll just pick the cute girls again like he tried to last semester.” He opened his top drawer and pulled out his antique inlaid box of brooches. “But if the Review is going to succeed then a) I can’t do everything on my own and b) I can’t be accused of playing favorites. The only person you’re friends with is me, and since I’m the head of the thing I’m obviously going to be on stage.”
“But - “
Kurt held up a pin in the shape of a spider to his shirt and considered his reflection. The pin had a low profile but was almost the size of his hand and needed to be placed just so. He inched it up closer to his shoulder, where it looked like it was crawling down his chest. Its delicate chain web draped beautifully against the steely blue of his Marc Jacobs shirt. Perfect.
“Ask Angelica,” Kurt told her as he fastened the pin in place. “She’s nice, for some definition of nice that includes being insanely bitchy without warning. And she won’t try to use her power to find a date. Unlike Ben. If he weren’t a genius with lighting, I would get rid of him in a heartbeat.”
Tina tightened the laces of one of her Fluevog boots and leaned back on her hands. “I think he’s sweet.”
“Only because he knows about Mike. And I may have embellished Mike’s resume to be a black belt in karate as well as a dancer.”
Kurt glanced at her in the mirror and rolled his eyes at her naivety; she'd have a lot to learn in New York about the people around them. “I only wish I were kidding. Ben took one look at you last spring when you came to visit and was about to go full stalker, complete with creepy photo shrine and night vision goggles.”
“Mmm.” He reconsidered the excitement in Ben’s eyes when Kurt had told him Tina was going to join the Review. “Maybe I should have said Mixed Martial Arts instead.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Tina said.
“Creepy stalker photo shrine,” Kurt told her again, turning to face her. "It wouldn't even be one of the artistic collages with black and white photos taken with a telephoto lens; it would be one of the ones with words scribbled all over blurry iPhone pictures with a lipstick he stole from your purse." He paused thoughtfully. "Although, given Ben's talents, it would be perfectly lit by a trio of mini-spotlights suspended from the ceiling."
“My mom got me some pepper spray before I came; I’m not worried.”
“Ah yes, the 'Have Fun in New York Starter Kit'. My dad put a loaded Leatherman because I wouldn't have room for a toolbox, five rolls of quarters for laundry, and about a hundred really embarrassing pamphlets in mine.”
Tina laughed, though there was an interested gleam in her eyes that sent a chill up his spine. Good thing he'd tucked those pamphlets away early last year. “I got The Talk again, but also pepper spray, a rape whistle, and a pocket subway map.”
“Like you didn’t already have the app on your phone.” Kurt had given her a detailed list of everything she'd need for the move as soon as she'd been accepted to the school, but even if he hadn't he was sure she could have figured that one out, at least.
“They meant well. I can't really get upset about anything now that I'm back in the same place as Mike,” she said. “This last year was hard, but now we’re both in New York.”
He sank down in his desk chair to pull on his knee-high Docs, smoothing his jeans into place before zipping up the boots. “At different schools,” he reminded her.
“Close enough. I mean, I can go to his dorm party tomorrow night instead of just hearing about it after.”
“Or seeing the embarrassing pictures on Facebook.”
“Exactly. I might even be in some.” He huffed a laugh at her enthusiasm at becoming a part of the blackmail-worthy photograph industry of the college party scene, and she bounced up to her feet and leaned halfway over him to peek out his tiny window. “So what if Mike and I aren't at the same school? We’re here. Together.”
Kurt couldn't be immune to her joy, and he smiled watching her.
He was happy for her. He was. She’d been one of his few real friends in high school - one of his few real friends ever - and he wanted the best for her. If she was happy being in New York and more or less reunited with her boyfriend, then he was happy, too.
Besides, there was a real comfort in having her in his room not just visiting a prospective college. She'd be around all year. Even if they weren't going to share classes, they'd have the Review, coffee dates, and brunch with Rachel. It felt good to know he'd have another friend in New York, someone he knew liked him. Not enough people liked him, even here, for that not to be incredibly valuable… even if he wished he could teach her some of the lessons he'd learned through painful trial and error his first year so she could avoid some of the same stumbles.
Tina was different than he was, though, and she had Mike. Maybe she wouldn't make the same mistakes.
“Hey, do you want to go to the party with me?” she asked, turning toward him. Her long hair brushed his cheek before she stood. “Come meet some new people at Tisch.”
“No, thank you," he replied without a second's thought, his smile dropping in an instant. It wasn't even an option.
She put her hand on his shoulder and said gently, “Mike says everyone is really open, Kurt. Nobody would give you a hard time. It would be okay.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Kurt told her. “This isn’t Lima. I don’t get hassled often, at least not like that.”
“Then why not come? I bet there will be tons of cute theater boys...” She gave him an encouraging smile.
Kurt shook his head in reply and stood up to gather together the things he’d need for the day. He had to stop by the theater for his work schedule, drop off his amended vocal study slip at the registrar’s office, see if he could pin down the rehearsal space for the Review if Darlene would ever call him back -
“Come on, Kurt, why not?”
He sighed and put his bag down on his bed to tuck everything into place inside. “First, Rachel texted me something about rushing Book of Mormon again on Friday, so staying up partying the night before is a recipe for a night without sleep or a proper skincare regimen and dozing off during the second act. Second, I’ve met tons of cute theater boys over the past year. And cute econ boys. And cute pre-law boys. And cute boys of pretty much every major under the sun. Even after being stuck for the summer in the oppressive backwater of Lima, I just don’t want to meet more boys. The novelty of being hit on - and it was quite a novelty, as you well know - wore off by about last November.”
“Isn’t it flattering?” she asked, sitting back on the edge of his mattress. “I mean, I know you haven’t found someone you really like but... it has to be kind of nice after high school, right?”
Kurt thought about it, about how amazing it had been to arrive in New York and find himself in the company of countless young gay men who not only weren’t repulsed by him but actually thought he was attractive, about how exciting and enlightening his first reciprocated flirtations and sexual experiences had been, and about how empty it had all felt when he got over the heady thrill of being able to express himself and realized that very little of the interest had been about him at all. They liked how he looked, sure, but they didn’t care about who he was.
He'd realized none of the attention had actually been about him, and it hurt. The talk his dad had given him before he went off to college still rang in his ears; he mattered, and he wanted to matter. Maybe it was stupid, but he did.
“It’s tiring,” he said at last. “I still can’t have what I want from them. And when I take what I can get...” He shrugged and went back to packing. He didn’t want to think about how miserable and cheapened it made him feel when he gave into the more desperate parts of himself and reached out for what was on offer.
“Yeah, you never sound happy on those walk of shame phone calls.” She was quiet for a moment and then said more brightly, “At least now that I’m here we can go out for breakfast and commiserate in person!”
Despite himself, Kurt started to laugh, because she sounded so happy about being a part of his least proud moments. “I’ll even buy.”
“That’s a deal.” She twisted up on her knees and put her arms around him; he hugged her back, a little reluctant but also relieved. Rachel was a better friend now that she was at NYADA and they weren’t in competition, but her empathy wasn’t consistent. Tina might have understood him less well at his core, but she expressed her love more. He could count on her. He’d missed that.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he said into her hair as he squeezed her tightly.
“And not just because you’re taking the auditions off of my hands.”
“Oh, god, Kurt.” She pushed him away and flopped back onto his bed. “I still don’t know how you got me to agree to that.”
He smoothed his bangs up into place and said with a grin, “I’m nothing if not determined.”
* * *
By Tuesday evening, Blaine had thirty-eight new friends on Facebook, a sore shoulder from a fall in Ultimate, a friendly but bitter rivalry with Lilah down the hall on Words With Friends, a first-name relationship with the TA in his Intro to Poli Sci class, a favorite table in the dining hall, and the number of the student worker who’d helped him find his Econ 101 books at the bookstore.
The boy had been charming and had had a great smile, but it wasn’t until Blaine saw a picture from last year’s Warblers’ Retreat on Trent’s Wall with Sebastian standing behind him, an arm slung around his waist, that Blaine decided to text Aaron. It was only polite to thank him for his help by taking him out for a cup of coffee at the Union, after all.
And if Aaron invited Blaine to the party he was throwing at his apartment that weekend, well, that was great, too. It would give him something to look forward to while he started on his reading for class.
Blaine was glad he was used to the busy Dalton schedule, because there was just so much to do in college.
* * *
From: Carole Hudson-Hummel
To: Kurt Hummel
Subject: Re: My Burberry Camel and Chocolate Plaid Wool Scarf
I found your scarf in the back of your closet (the pictures you attached were helpful, thank you, and you look very handsome in it!), and I sent it to you Priority this morning; Helen at the Post Office said you ought to have it by Thursday.
Don't be mad that I tucked a box of those chocolate-dipped cookies you like in there, too. (I wrapped the scarf in a plastic bag in case of any melting, don't worry.) You already looked tired enough to break this mother's heart on Skype this week, and this is the best hug I can fit in the mail.
Don't work yourself too hard, honey. We're proud of you.
From: Kurt Hummel
To: Carole Hudson-Hummel
Subject: Re: My Burberry Camel and Chocolate Plaid Wool Scarf
Thank you; the scarf arrived this morning.
I have hidden the cookies away in the bottom of my desk so that my hall-mates can't smell the sugar from the hallway and try to break into my room like the slavering zombies they are when it comes to sweets. They are my hug, and I'm not sharing.
I'm here to work hard, but if I'm looking tired over Skype I'm going to have to take extra care with my skin care this week. Thank you for telling me. :)
* * *
On Friday afternoon, Kurt walked into his dorm room and let the door shut behind him with a solid thud. He didn’t turn on his lights or set his phone in its charger, just let his bag drop to the floor before he fell on his back onto the perfectly made bed. The tail of his champagne-colored crocheted scarf bounced up with the impact and covered his face, and he flicked it away. The lights of the city outside of his window painted the room in garish stripes of color, like an urban zebra print.
He’d have to remember that idea for a future outfit, he thought to himself before he closed his eyes. Urban zebra print. Urban safari. Something like that.
He was exhausted. He’d had back-to-back classes for two days straight, and it was clear that they were going to be harder than last year. His Shakespeare class had started right in on Richard III, his movement class had been strenuous enough he’d pulled something in his neck he couldn’t quite stretch out, and his vocal professor had immediately taken a dislike to him, as far as he could tell. It was nothing he couldn’t overcome - he’d dealt with worse - but it was discouraging. When he looked at their syllabi, all he saw was harder work ahead. And then there was the Review, which still didn’t have a rehearsal space.
All that and his new shoes apparently weren’t properly broken in, so he’d rubbed the start of a blister on his toe. Plus he was hungry, and he didn’t have anything in his room besides Carole's cookies and the organic instant noodles he kept in case of late night emergency or the flu. He didn’t even want to consider the sodium in the noodles, but he just didn’t have the energy to walk to the dining hall.
He knew he could call Rachel and complain, and Tina would probably even bring him food if he reached out, but it seemed pointless. He could do this. He just needed to rest a little, work out the knot in his neck, and he’d be as good as new.
There was laughter in the hallway as a group of girls walked past his door, probably on their way to dinner. He didn’t know his hall-mates well enough yet even to guess who they might be.
Kurt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. All summer, he’d been dreaming of getting back to New York from the stifling, fashion-barren world of Lima and back to where he belonged. It had been torture having to deal with the looks he’d gotten walking down the street or sitting with friends. All he’d wanted was to get back to New York. Except now that he was here with the work piling on and millions of New Yorkers living their busy lives all round him he was missing his dad and Carole. He was missing Finn. He was missing the easy love of sitting around the kitchen table or mocking the latest season of The Voice with his family. He was missing belonging.
Not that he belonged in Ohio, not anywhere but in his house, and some days he didn’t fit there, either. He’d fought so hard to get free. And yet, New York wasn’t everything he wanted it to be. He wasn’t at NYADA. He wasn’t the rising star of his own program, not yet. He wasn’t automatically understood and loved by everyone he met, the expectation he’d clung to when he was making his way through his days at McKinley one cutting remark and slam into a locker at a time. He still had so fucking far to go.
“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered to himself, and he pushed himself up to a sitting position. “I got to New York without that, and I’ll conquer it the same way. Then I’ll worry about the rest.”
Still, he slipped off his shoes and tucked them away before digging out his noodles. He could handle one sodium-rich meal. Drinking an extra quart of water was more appealing than putting on his game face and going out in public again.
And if he sent an e-mail to make a lunch date with Tina and Rachel for the next week to catch up on everything, that was just being a good friend.
* * *
Thanks to the GPS on his phone and a very helpful young woman in the subway, Blaine was ten minutes early to the coffee shop Wes had chosen because of its location roughly halfway between their two campuses and close to a subway stop. The shop itself was clean and modern but nothing special - one chain looked much like another - but he got himself a latte (some part of him still cringed to order it skim with an extra shot and extra foam because it was Sebastian who’d encouraged him to liven up his order, but he was used to drinking coffee that way by now) and a regular drip for Wes and took a seat facing the door. He smiled when he opened the lid; the barista had swirled the foam in the shape of a fern leaf. He loved that.
Despite it being a grey day, Blaine felt good. He was getting the hang of the city, and if his array of intro classes wasn’t lighting his world on fire he knew he was going to learn a lot and start figuring out what field he wanted to pursue. He’d also gone out with the LGBT Alliance again last night, and he’d met a cute guy named Scott who’d turned out to be really funny as well as having a great body. They’d had tons of fun at the trivia night at the bar before they’d gone back to Scott’s apartment.
Well, Blaine thought as heat rose on his cheeks, they’d barely made it into the apartment before he’d given into the desire to pin the very agreeable Scott against his front door, but that’d been pretty amazing, too.
Blaine’s head jerked up, and he smiled broadly as Wes threaded his way through the tables toward him. He got up and gave his old friend a tight hug before settling back down into his chair. It had been a couple of years since they'd been in the same place, and he felt a flutter of nerves and a sense of rightness to be sitting across from him again like they had so many times over lunch or coffee at Dalton.
“It’s great to see you. Did you have any problem finding the place?” Wes asked. He took the cup with a nod of thanks and grabbed a packet of sugar from the crock on the table.
“Not at all," Blaine replied. "I think I’m getting the hang of the subway. And I got a girl’s number.”
“A girl’s?” Wes looked up from stirring his coffee.
Blaine laughed a little self-consciously. “Well, it seemed rude to tell her I was gay after she’d been so helpful.”
“As opposed to not calling her?”
“Hey, it’s New York. Lots of people don’t call people,” Blaine said. “But it felt more rude to refuse to take her number.”
Wes chuckled. “I see you’re settling in already.”
“I think so,” Blaine said, surprised but very pleased by the thought. So far everything seemed to be going well. He was making friends, going to his classes, and not stumbling into repeating past mistakes.
“Good. So, Warbler Blaine,” Wes said with a nod and an ironic twist of a smile, “tell me about your first two weeks of college. Are you enjoying it so far?” He lifted his paper coffee cup in a salute.
“It’s great,” Blaine replied, stretching his legs out as far as he could under the small table; he’d played a hard game of Ultimate Frisbee the day before, and his muscles were still sore. “My roommate is pretty cool, and I can live with the fact that he wants me to listen to music with headphones if it means I don’t have to room with someone like Gus down the hall, who smokes pot all day and hasn’t showered since he got here, as far as we can tell.”
“The freshman roommate lottery is like Russian Roulette isn’t it?” Wes said. “Mine was a Bio major who kept bringing things home from his anatomy lab. Like eyeballs.”
“Animal eyeballs? Or...?” He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘human’.
“Does it really matter?”
Blaine didn't have to think about that for more than a second. “No, not really. So how’s life as an upperclassman again?”
“Busy," Wes replied. "I declared an Econ and East Asian Studies double major, so I’m swamped with a ridiculous amount of work. At least it’s interesting. And then around that and rehearsals for the Kingsmen I’m an RA, which means I’ve got thirty-five bright-eyed freshmen to try to keep out of trouble.” He looked at Blaine and narrowed his eyes. “Hmm. Thirty-six.”
“Hey, since when did I get into trouble?” Blaine asked, leaning back in his chair and flashing his show smile.
Wes didn't smile back. “Just because I graduated at the end of your sophomore year doesn’t mean I didn’t hear things, Blaine.”
“Oh.” Blaine's good mood vanished. He looked down at his coffee for a minute and wished a sip of it could erase the taste of shame in his mouth; he’d kind of hoped that Wes would be part of the clean slate New York was offering him. “Most of that wasn’t me.”
“I’m sure very little of it was,” Wes said. “But that’s behind you now.” It was almost but not quite a question.
“Yes. Definitely yes,” Blaine replied quickly. It was. He wanted it to be. “So far behind me I can’t even see him in my rear view mirror.”
Wes watched him thoughtfully.
Blaine sighed and toyed with his cup. He very deliberately did not let himself rehash all of the foolish things he’d done with and for Sebastian. He couldn’t; it would swallow him up. “Look, I was stupid, but I’m over that. I learned my lesson. And I don’t think I hurt the Warblers... or anybody but myself, really.”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Wes said with a dry edge to his voice that Blaine couldn’t decipher. “Anyway, that was high school, and even compared with someplace like Dalton college is quite different.”
“It really is. I mean, if nothing else there are a lot more people and places to meet them.”
Wes laughed as he sipped his coffee. “I was talking more about academics and opportunities, but your point is true, too. I’m sure you’ll make a lot of friends. You always have.”
“I have already. My Ultimate team is awesome, and I’m hoping to get into one of the a cappella groups on campus.”
“You might have to stand in the background and sing harmonies your first year or two, you know,” Wes reminded him with more than a touch of humor in his eyes.
“I know,” Blaine said. "And that’s why I'm also auditioning for this student theater review today. That way I can be front and center.” He tried his show smile again, and this time Wes chuckled and shook his head.
“I see you have your priorities in order.”
Blaine grinned back, because he knew the semi-parental tone was just how Wes showed he cared. He'd really missed Wes. “I’m going to my classes, Wes. I’m doing my homework. And I’ve actually been spending a lot of time with the LGBT group; Peter was saying they volunteer at a youth center on the weekends, and I’m thinking of going.”
“Peter?” Wes asked with a pointed lift of his eyebrow.
“No,” Blaine told him. “It’s not like that. He’s a friend. Um. Sort of.”
Wes’s eyebrows went even higher.
“No, he is. We’re not - “ Blaine rubbed his hand over the back of his neck and cleared his throat. He had no real idea how to explain that they’d hooked up the once but actually seemed to like hanging out in a group; he wasn’t ashamed of his behavior, but it was Wes. Wes, who had always felt like the epitome of a Dalton gentleman. Wes, who had taken him under his wing and who he'd wanted so badly not to disappoint.
“It’s your business, not mine. Just tell me you’re being smart, Blaine.” Wes leaned back in his chair, his eyes intent on Blaine’s face.
Blaine nodded. “I am. Really. I believe in safe sex. A hundred percent.”
“That’s good, obviously, but I’m not just talking about that. I remember the Gap Attack. I know how hard you fall.”
“Oh, god.” Blaine leaned his elbow on the table and buried his face in his hand. It had hardly been his finest hour, and he’d had a lot of bad hours. Even if Jeremiah had liked him, a public spectacle like that was totally the wrong way to get a guy. He knew that now. He'd never make that kind of mistake again. “I’m not that kid anymore, Wes.”
“Blaine - “
“Come on, Wes," he begged, "let’s talk about something other than how much of an idiot I’ve been. I’m being smart. And I’m in New York. Let’s talk about how cool college is, how cool the city is.”
“All right,” Wes said, but the concern didn’t immediately leave his eyes. “Tell me more about this student review you think you’re going to star in.”
* * *
Blaine had always thought of rain as a kind of cleansing process; in New York, he wasn’t so sure.
He wiped his feet on the mat as he went into the theater building and did his best to smooth the water out of his hair, although that only made it drip down the back of his neck. He really was going to have to pay better attention to the forecast and remember an umbrella and extra gel. He couldn’t look much worse.
A few minutes with the hand dryer in the bathroom helped take the chill out of his shirt and turn it from soaked to merely damp, and a quick comb of his hair got it back into place more or less. It was hardly the impression he wanted to make at the audition, but he didn’t have a choice. If he didn’t get the performance spot, it was his own fault for not planning ahead.
There were a half dozen of other students sitting on chairs out in the hallway outside of the classroom the auditions were being held in, and one of them pointed him to a sign-in sheet. He wrote his name at the bottom; most of the twenty or so names were scratched out, and he had to assume they’d already come and gone. He knew from the e-mails he’d received that this was the second day of auditions, and they’d had to add a third to accommodate the interest in the Review. The competition was going to be tough.
Blaine sat and closed his eyes, rolling his neck and trying to focus. He hadn’t had to audition for a part in years until this week, and it was more nerve-wracking than he’d thought it would be. He loved to perform, and he’d loved competing with the Warblers, but there was something about his individual worthiness being judged that didn’t sit well.
He took a deep breath and pushed the thought away. He could do this. The nerves and insecurities weren’t important. He was made to be on stage. If he knew nothing else, he knew that. He knew how to turn on his charm. He rolled his neck again and bounced his shoulders to loosen them. All he had to do was be that Blaine and sing. He could do that.
By the time the other students had been called in, leaving Blaine alone in the hallway, he was ready.
The petite young woman with a sleek bob who’d been directing the auditions came out of the room and picked up the clipboard. “Let’s see,” she said with a grin, looking at the one name left and then up and down the otherwise empty hallway. “Is there a Blaine Anderson here?”
He rose to his feet and smiled at her. “That’s me.”
“Come on in. I’m Angelica. That’s Tina.” She nodded to the Asian woman sitting behind the desk at the edge of the room. Tina gave him a little wave, and Angelica made her way to the other chair behind the desk.
“I’m Blaine,” he said. “I’m not usually so soggy. I’m sorry, but I hope you’ll take my word that I wouldn’t be wearing damp clothes at the actual performance.”
“I don’t know; it could be a draw,” Angelica said with a grin.
“I didn’t realize it was that kind of show,” he replied, letting his smile go a little flirty. He knew just how to play this to appear confident. To be confident.
“You’d be surprised; last year one of our principal performers wanted us all to do the nude song from Hair,” Angelica said. “For the record, we gave that a big no.”
Tina flicked through the pile of papers in front of her and pulled out two sheets stapled together. “Okay, here you are. Blaine Anderson. Freshman?” He nodded, and she read a little further before looking up in surprise. “You’re not in the theater or music departments?”
“No, I - “ Blaine said, quickly searching his memory if there’d been a requirement about that in any of their communications. “I’m officially undecided, but I didn’t think this was just for theater majors.”
“No, it isn’t,” she assured him. “But obviously most of the people who get spots will have that kind of background.”
“I sang in show choir all through high school; I’m just not planning on pursuing it for a career.”
Tina’s eyes brightened, but before she could say anything Angelica said, “Show us what you’ve got.”
“Okay.” And with that he smiled, rolled his shoulders again, and went over to the piano. Unlike the a cappella auditions, where he wanted to emphasize his control, range, and understanding of harmonies as well as his ability to shine, this time he wanted to show his charisma front and center. He had a variety of flirty pop songs to choose from in his repertoire, so he just took a deep breath and dove in.
Angelica sat back and smiled at him by the time he was through the first verse, but Tina made a number of notes on his paperwork. He projected his voice a little further, and she glanced up in response, biting her lip like she was trying to look serious; he could see the sparkle in her eyes, though, and he knew he had her. He grinned to himself through the rest of the song.
When he was finished, they both clapped, and Angelica took a deep breath and let it out as she stretched her hands over her head. “Oh, that was a good way to end the day. I swear, if I have to watch another interpretive dance or soliloquy from Hamlet I’m going to stab my own eyes out like Oedipus. And my ears, too, because I’m sorry but singing something at half tempo doesn’t automatically make it soulful; most of the time it just makes it slow.”
“We have more tomorrow,” Tina reminded her.
“The curse of this show becoming popular. Everybody and their brother is trying to get on stage this semester. But it’s better than the alternative, I guess.” Angelica stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. “Thanks for coming, Blaine,” she said to him. “You and Katy Perry made my day.”
“I’m of the opinion that a little Katy can make any day better,” he replied. He smiled at them both and took a step back toward the door. “Thanks again.”
“Wait, Blaine, do you have a second?” Tina asked. “It’s not about this, but - “
“See you tomorrow,” Angelica told Tina. “I’m going to go sing some Wagner and pretend I’m a valkyrie to get the crap music out of my ears. Not yours.” She patted Blaine’s arm as she walked by.
“She sings opera?” Blaine asked once Angelica was out of the room.
“For fun. She’s doing stage design.” Tina grabbed another pile of papers that were on the floor and started to sort them together. “Anyway,” she said as she worked, “I wanted to ask - you were in show choir?”
Blaine nodded and slid his hands into the pockets of his shorts; the lining was unpleasantly clammy. “All through high school.”
“Me, too!” she said with a smile; it lit up her face and made her look even prettier than she already did.
“Yeah, I miss it. I mean, college is great, but that was my family, you know? Only a couple of them are in New York.”
“I know what you mean,” he replied. “I saw one of them this morning, and it was kind of like seeing a big brother. Mildly condescending words of wisdom and all.”
Tina laughed and tucked a strand of her long hair behind her ear. “Totally. My friend who started this review also came from Lima, and he gave me this lecture the other day about the importance of wearing bath shoes in the dorm shower that lasted fifteen minutes and I swear might have included diagrams and sock puppets if I hadn’t cut him off.”
Blaine was caught in the amusement of the story for a moment before what she said really struck him. Tingles of shock ran up his arms and set the hair there standing on end, almost like the feeling of being watched. “Lima? Ohio?”
She nodded. “You’ve heard of it?”
“I went to Dalton Academy. In Westerville.”
Tina put down the papers in her hands and stood up straighter, giving him her full attention. “You were a Warbler.”
“Yes.” He automatically squared his shoulders, and his fingers itched to straighten the tie he no longer wore. Once a Warbler, always a Warbler, isn't that what they said? It was hard to break the habit.
“I can almost picture you in the blazer. We beat you my sophomore year,” she said with a laugh. “McKinley High. New Directions.” She held out her hand, and he shook it.
He remembered them a little from a few years before, mostly the name and the fact the Warblers had lost to them, but one thing still stood out from their performance. “Wow, you guys had the best dancers.”
“Yeah.” She beamed at him before her expression turned even sweeter. “One of them is still my boyfriend. Mike. He’s at Tisch.”
“That’s great.” Blaine rocked back on his heels and wondered why he was so surprised to meet someone else from Ohio. People came to New York from all over the world, after all. And it wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of reasons to want to get out of someplace like Lima.
“Mm hmm. He’s a year ahead of me, so it’s nice to be in the same place again. Especially when it’s here.” She went back to trying to organize her papers. “How about you? New York’s a big change from Westerville, huh?”
“In a good way,” Blaine said and told himself he wasn't going to start hiding now, no matter that it might change her opinion of him. “Ohio’s not the best place to be out.”
Her eyes flicked over him from head to toe with interest, but she didn’t look disgusted; then again, she was working with a group of theater people, so being homophobic wouldn’t have made much sense. “No, it isn’t,” she said with some sympathy. She pulled out an accordion file and slipped the papers into the sections inside. “I can’t even tell you how useless the school was when my friend was being bullied. They barely did anything.” She put away the last of the papers and fastened the elastic around the file as he tried not to think about his own history of being harassed and beaten up. That wasn't her problem, as sympathetic as she sounded about her friend, and it had been a long time ago now. “Anyway. That’s all behind us now, right? We escaped!”
“At least until Thanksgiving break.”
“But then we get to come back.” She put the folder down on her bag and said, “I’m sorry to keep you. I’m just glad to meet another show choir geek, especially one from Ohio. I’m happy you came in, Blaine.”
“Me, too,” he said, and his smile came from his heart. It was always good to meet people who could understand part of him, like where he came from, and she seemed really nice. He liked her already. As she began to push the table closer to the center of the room he automatically took the other end. “Here, let me help.”
“Are you trying to butter up the judge?” she asked.
“Will it work?”
Tina shook her head. “No, but you don’t need it. Unless we get another dozen pop-singing tenors tomorrow I think we’re going to want you.”
“I can sing more than pop,” Blaine assured her, grabbing two of the chairs from the edge of the room and setting them back in their rows, because he didn't want her to think he couldn't do more if they needed it.
“That’s good. It’s not cabaret night. Well, unless it’s from Cabaret.”
“‘Willkommen, bienvenue -’” he sang.
She laughed. “Oh, you’d have to fight for that song. But if you promise to help paint sets as well as perform, I’ll consider kneecapping him for you.”
“It’s a deal.” Blaine extended his hand, and with a mutually satisfied smile they shook on it. He didn’t care about singing that particular song, of course, but the camaraderie Tina was offering was familiar and welcome. He would be stupid not to take it.