Blaine Anderson grips his messenger bag, stares at the tiny bar stage, and prays for a blackout. Or better yet, the end of the concert that would not die. They call themselves “Jackie Daniels” and they’re abysmal. Blaine can enjoy self-mockery, but not a bad metal band that thinks they’re God’s gift to music.
“Ay shitheads!” The lead singer and guitarist, aka “Mohawk,” leans past the lip of the stage. “That was just the warm-up for the real deal,” he crows. “You ready to get your rocks off Columbus?”
Apparently, Columbus is not ready.
“You suck!” someone calls from the crowd. From the back of the grimy bar, a pale hand chucks a beer can at the stage and narrowly misses Blaine’s head. His knuckles go white against the strap of his bag and he mutters the names of gods he’s only heard in history class.
“No. You SUCK,” Mohawk smirks, “and so did your mom last night.” He barks a laugh at his own joke and the crowd seethes in impotent rage. When the band launches into another round of screeching cords, Blaine does his best to blend in. Of course, that would be easier if Sam had told him that they were going to see thrash metal.
Two hours ago, Blaine had been standing outside of Sam’s room wondering why his best friend insisted on calling across the hallway when he wanted company. Contrary to everything his dorm mates had experienced over the previous last six months, some conversations shouldn’t be held at full volume in public.
This time, Blaine had opened the door and found Sam in his boxers, rooting through a pile of laundry. He’d looked up and grinned.
“Oh good, you’re here.” Sam picked up two shirts and shoved them towards Blaine’s face. “Which one says ‘I look awesome, but I don’t want to get with you because I already have a girlfriend’?”
Blaine frowned. “Where are you going to not pick someone up?”
Sam lowered the two shirts and looked at Blaine like he’d dissed the Avengers.
“What?” Blaine crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re pretty close, but I still can’t read your mind.”
“We should get on that.”
“I know, Sam. It’s on the list, but where are you and your wrinkled shirt going?”
“We, and by that I mean you and me, not me and the shirt. . .”
“Right. Go on.”
“We’re going to a show and—” he held up a hand as Blaine tried to jump in.” Before you say anything. We’re going because it’s going to be awesome and there’s gonna be a whole crowd full of sexy young college students who are not my girlfriend, so I won’t be sharing these tracts of land with any lucky ladies.” Blaine tried not to snort as Sam slid his hands up his own torso and kept talking. “Now you, my man, can share your stuff—“
He gestured absently at Blaine’s everything.
“My what?” Blaine blanched.
“You know, your . . . assets,” he insisted as Blaine flushed. “You can share all you want and even if you don’t want to share, you should. It’s been, what, eight months since Marc?”
“Yes.” Blaine nodded reluctantly. It had been ten, but who was counting.
“Then it’s time to get out there, brother,” Sam said, all earnestness. “I don’t care how hard you pray. Men who love men are not just going to show up at your dorm room unless you start holding auditions. I mean, you could hold auditions—“
“Sam, I’m not holding auditions for the role of my boyfriend.”
“Well then?” Sam threw his arms up and Blaine tried not to notice that he still wasn’t wearing pants. “We have to go find him right? Look, I know that you’re scared or gun-shy or something, but you won’t be on your own. I won’t let you do anything that’s too you.”
Blaine crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe, pouting into his “I love bacon” pajamas. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He knew exactly what Sam was talking about.
In high school, he’d noticed a pattern; he fell hard and the objects of his affection were inevitably straight, in relationships, or incapable of living up to “Blaine” levels of intensity. When he loved, he loved with origami, odes, and wedding plans—not necessarily in that order. So when he was smitten with his Freshman year RA, or the kid who ran the pizza station in the cafeteria, he started checking with Sam because, apparently, Blaine’s instincts were idiots. Sam wasn’t always right, but he had a better gay-dar than Blaine and usually weeded out the ones who were, say, married or over 30.
In his infinite kindness, Sam didn’t press the point in his room. “I know you want to be more than the theater department dictator, even if you don’t talk about it,” Sam went on, “so we’re getting dressed and going to see Jackie Daniels. You have fifteen minutes to look like you aged beyond the fourth grade.”
“Excuse me?” he smiled in spite of himself. “I was in bed. There was popcorn.”
“Dude, you look like I just interrupted your marathon of Blues Clues. Gel up your hair and get dapper, ‘cause I’ve got two tickets with our names on ‘em.”
“Yes sir.” Blaine smiled and went to leave, when he realized that he’d forgotten something important. “Who are they, the band, I mean? How do you even know about the show?”
“You remember when I got the second job at the Pita Pit?” Blaine nodded and watched as Sam started working his way into the second of the two shirts.
“This repair guy had to come in to fix the fryer and it turns out he’s had his own group for years. They’ve written at least ten songs. They’re totally legit.” Shirt in place, Sam grabbed his deodorant from the top of the pile, and tossed it from hand to hand. “Why are you still standing here? I’m your friend and right now I’m your wingman. Stop worrying and go do whatever it is you do to get pretty.”
“I don’t get pretty.” Blaine smirked and threw a sock ball at Sam’s head on his way out the door.
“That’s not what you said last time,” Sam called.
“Shut up,” Blaine called back. It was a weak retaliation, even for him, but Sam was right. He didn’t want to go out dancing in flannel, and it felt like an eternity since he’d allowed himself to feel the fluttery anxiety of a new crush. Not that he expected to run out and find Mr. Right or even Mr. Right Now, but sometimes possibility was even more intoxicating than the real thing.
Of course, if he had known where Sam would be taking him, he might not have worked so hard on his hair.
As soon as they walked in the door of the Leaky Tap, Blaine knew that something was very wrong. The all-male audience dressed in dirty ripped t-shirts was the first tip-off that neither of them could get a date in this bar.
“No way, Sam,” Blaine turned an accusatory glare. “Please tell me that this is an elaborate joke.”
Sam shrugged, “I’m not that good. But what’s the big deal? You’re Blaine. You make friends with, like--” he waved his hands in Blaine’s direction. “What’s the name for a person who hates other people?”
“A misanthropist?” he said. “Or these people?” he said a little lower, gesturing towards the room.
“Right. That thing,” Sam smiled. “You could make friends at Misanthropists Anonymous. You can blend in with these guys.”
“Not dressed like this, I couldn’t.” Blaine picked at his red polo in disgust. “I look like I’m here to do their calculus homework.”
“Sure, but you look like you’d do it well.” That elicited a hesitant smile and Sam tapped him on the ass as they moved towards the bar. “Let’s get some drinks, and we’ll call it an adventure, okay?”
“Fine.” He smacked Sam back, “but you’re buying.”
Blaine wound his way through the crowd with Sam on his tail, dodging bodies and hands already holding drinks. He wedged himself between two walking beards to get to the bar, but it was only when he held up two fingers to the bartender that he realized that he was on his own. Blaine jumped to see over the crowd and found his friend staring sheepishly at his phone.
He didn’t have to ask. Sam was wearing his “I have to call my girlfriend” face. He started to apologize, but Blaine waved him down. No apologies necessary. Love was love and easily trumped any stupid concert. After shoving money into Blaine’s hand (“for drinks! Drink things!”), grabbing him for a hug, and promising to be back in, like, a minute, Sam made a beeline for the nearest exit. Blaine decided to make a sport of people watching in his absence.
One hour and one opening band later, he isn’t feeling so charitable. Sam still hasn’t reemerged and Blaine’s trying not to get irritated. Even though he’s been lucky enough to have his best wingman by his side for the last three years, being abandoned still stings. He wouldn’t dream of asking Sam to love his lady any less, but he sometimes wishes that the distance between Ohio and California didn’t make timing so delicate. Sam and Mercedes had been doing the long-distance thing since high school, and that meant chasing down time for conversations between classes and recording sessions in different time zones. Usually, Blaine admires their ability to remain in a committed relationship via Skype. God knows he hadn’t been in a relationship that had lasted longer than three months unless he counts Thad’s request to be “not-so-hetero platonic life-partners.”
Blaine sighs and checks his pocket watch; for all of his support, he’s still very alone in the crowd. During the gap between the opener and Jackie Collins, he’d started naming the bros in his eye-line based on the designs on the backs of their t-shirts. He’s developing a rapport with Pantera, Anthrax, Wrathchild, and their buddy Whitesnake, when the entire clump of bodies makes a move for more drinks and, for the first time, he can see the whole band.
Scanning the stage, he finds Mohawk, simulating oral sex on the spread V of his own fingers; the stunning nondescript bassist, whose expressionless face almost disappears into the venue walls; and finally, he finds a reason to enjoy the show.
As usual it’s a boy, but Blaine would be the first to explain, “it’s not like that.”
He’s not smitten; he’s surprised.
Tucked into the farthest upstage corner, behind the amps and extra guitars, he finds the drum kit and a giant of a man hammering away like a four-year-old. It’s not that the drummer is imprecise; he’s just beating on the drums with the kind of playful delight that Blaine usually associates with children on Christmas day. He can easily imagine this Great Dane puppy of a man getting his first drum kit as a little boy. He probably drove his mother crazy pretending to be Ringo Star and banging out solos late into the night.
With each downbeat and riff, the man closes his eyes and flails in a wild flurry of joy. And when a song ends, he stares in awe at his own hands and grins out at the audience as if to say, “Guys! Did you see that? I don’t even know how I did that!”
The difference between foreground and background couldn’t be more striking. While Mohawk and the faceless-bassist bang away on their strings, The Great Dane closes his eyes and plays for the concert in his own mind.
Right now, Blaine really rather be at that show.
For the first time since Sam’s disappearance, Blaine can’t help but smile, matching the drummer grin for grin. The “music” he’s making might feel alien, but he knows that smile. That’s the smile he wore for every Warbler performance, even the ones that ended in a pretty boy getting fired from the GAP. In fact, he wore that smile for every boy who inspired him to write mash notes and scream into his pillow in his childhood bedroom. That smile belongs to pure, unadorned, squealing adoration and it’s been a few too many months since Blaine allowed himself to feel that much without recoiling in shame. Some part of him couldn’t help but hear the old voices when he got too emotional or too intense or too. . . Blaine.
Some days the voice sounded like Sebastian, after he’d grown bored with Blaine’s grand gestures, and those were the better days. Sebastian could be cutting, but he was the first boy to find Blaine’s full-throated romanticism genuinely charming. They were just looking for different things in the end, so Sebastian had gone off to greener pastures and Blaine had watched as he slept through every gay, bi, or hetero-flexible “pasture” in Lima. Still, the other voices were harder. Why couldn’t they comprehend that for him love was a verb, a noun, and an adjective all at the same time?
On a gut level, he knows that The Great Dane would understand his brand of love because he’s living it all over that stage. He loves those drums. He loves those beats. He probably even loves his obnoxious lead singer, and Blaine loves him for it. So Blaine grins and the drummer grins, and they both probably look addled, but he can’t bring himself to care.