“So, what’s the scariest thing that you’ve done?”
Blaine studied the ceiling of the dormitory room. The sliver of light from the drawn curtains cast a slice of brightness that drew the rest of the room as shadows. The fan hummed softly, like a song just out of reach. Into the quiet, he managed, “I don’t know. There’s been some weird stuff.”
“I’ll share mine if you share yours,” Sebastian offered.
“This isn’t a hidden camera prank, is it?”
“Would I do that to you?” Blaine didn’t need light to see Sebastian clutching his chest with dramatic aplomb.
Blaine wasn’t swayed. “You’ll do anything to get to the top.” And he wouldn’t put it beyond Sebastian to arrange a hidden camera prank, hide a camera in the dark to catch all of Blaine’s secrets and pass it off for the producers to leak. Or the tabloids.
“To the others, yeah. Not to you.”
“Because my fanbase would murder you if they found out?”
Blaine was quiet for a moment. “Before you joined, there was a game show we did.”
“We had to strip.”
“You do that at shows all the time.” Sebastian’s voice was steadily neutral.
“I unbutton my shirt,” Blaine said. “I don’t…” He took a deep breath. “Pants got involved.”
Sebastian hummed. “Back in Paris, a girl snuck into my hotel room by climbing through the vents.”
Sebastian laughed. “Yeah. How did she even fit, right?”
That hadn’t been what Blaine was thinking. “What did you do?”
“Sign her magazines, report her to security, asked her to keep supporting me. Except, maybe a little less passionately.”
Blaine couldn’t help the snort. “Did you actually say the last part?”
Sebastian scoffed back. “Of course not.”
He said nothing. The room was dark. They had an early morning tomorrow. Blaine should have been asleep hours ago. Instead, Sebastian’s voice, steady as an earworm, kept him awake longer and longer.
“Was this your plan?” Blaine asked, not sure where the words were coming from.
Get me too tired to think tomorrow, Blaine thought. Have me fuck up of my own accord. Step forward as the new star of the Warblers. Usurp my position as lead singer.
He said, “I’m going to bed.”
“Good night, Killer.”
He closed his eyes and didn’t reply.
Blaine joined the Warblers in the summer of 2009, when they were just beginning to make a name for themselves. Dalton Music had just established themselves in New York, where every evening they put on a song and dance, mixing pop and rock tunes with the choreography showing of dozens of lithe young men pirouetting and leaping across the stage with aplomb. Off-stage, the Warblers played board games together, went out to meals together, laughed and joked as the best of friends.
Blaine had watched a performance and wanted nothing more than to be one of them.
He auditioned that summer, passing rigorous test after test until he had become one of them, one of sixteen performing every third night. He thought it was everything he wanted, a song in his throat and music at his feet, running through well-practiced steps under bright lights and brighter dreams.
And then less than a year later, Blaine was at the top, voted most popular in every poll, front and center in every performance, face on the CDs and voice lilting through solos.
He thought it was everything he wanted.
“How does it feel, spearheading the brand new Los Angeles Dalton Music Theatre?”
“It’s an honor,” Blaine replied. He could feel the steady presence of the rest of the Warblers—the ones that had been peeled off to start the LA theatre, the new ones who had auditioned solely for the honor of being part of the first west coast theatre—behind his back. Sebastian’s gaze was particularly potent. “I’m very excited to be able to share our music with the west coast. I hope that people like it.”
“I’m sure they will. Will you still be releasing songs with the New York theatre?”
“Yes.” He had the words memorized. “We’ll still be making recording and touring decisions as a joint unit. The LA theatre is to provide west coast fans with a chance to see us more regularly. We’ve received a lot of feedback over the years that New York is very far for more than half of the country. We’re hoping to be able to share our music with everybody, every day.”
“And that’s the motto of Dalton music.”
“That’s right.” Wes made an approving murmur over his right shoulder. “Music for everybody, every day. That’s why we have theatres where we hold daily performances. Instead of having to wait for a concert that only comes around once every few years, we try to bring the concert to everybody every day.”
His part was done. He took a shallow breath through his nose. The room droned with the hustle and bustle of cameramen and their cameras, directors huffing through their nose, producers whispering in the back of the room, too loud, too quiet. The host looked down at his cue cards.
It’s always got to be about you, Blaine, doesn’t it.
The host’s voice was smooth and well-polished, “It must be a lot of pressure on your shoulders.”
Blaine smiled, a practiced smile. It stretched his cheeks, just enough to curve his lips, not enough to crack the foundation under the recording lights, not enough to smudge the eyeliner around his eyes. He’d learned the smile after he’d joined the Warblers, when his smile was deemed too toothy, too exuberant, too Blaine.
He smiled the smile he was expected to smile, and let himself respond.
Before Los Angeles, before Sebastian, there was a boy named Kurt in the crowded theatre of New York.
Kurt made it through the seventh round of auditions. His countertenor belied his ruthless ambition. Kurt had his sights set on Blaine’s spot as frontman of the Warblers, and he would stop at nothing to get it.
Every season, the fans voted. Every season, the top 16 were announced as the recording team, recording CDs and filming music videos. Every season, the most popular singer was announced as the frontman of the Warblers. Blaine still didn’t know how he had made it through each round of popularity votes on top. But each season passed, and Blaine’s face remained front-and-center of the CDs, his voice as the lead soloist, the others arrayed around him.
And then Kurt said, “Warblers? What Warblers? It’s just Blaine and the Pips,” too lightly to be taken as snide, smile on his face, straight to the cameras and microphones that always lingered outside the theatre, waiting for soundbites for tabloid sites.
Blaine had been summoned to his manager’s office, watching the clip on repeat.
“Think about how your actions may have caused this.” His manager paced, steps too brisk to be anything but furious. “The Warblers have a reputation. Rumors are spreading about you, Blaine.”
Blaine bowed his head and said nothing. There was a rushing in his ears, drowning out all other sound.
The producer leaned forward, too paternal. “I know what you’re thinking, Blaine. You’re a good kid. You’ve never given us any trouble. But you have to think about what’s best for the group. The others are counting on you.”
“Good. I expect you to patch things up with Kurt.”
He nodded again.
His manager clapped his shoulder, jovial. “Good! Good. Of course, we can always rely on you.”
And then Los Angeles happened.
And then Sebastian.
“A stellar interview as always,” Sebastian drawled, as they stretched in preparation for rehearsals. There were always rehearsals. Rehearsals for performances. Rehearsals for interviews. “As expected from Blaine Anderson.”
Blaine didn’t respond. Sebastian had taken it upon himself to attach himself to Blaine. Despite the others who had moved to Los Angeles with Blaine, Blaine spent more time with Sebastian, new to the group, than his old teammates. Sebastian had a way of corralling the others away, not unlike how Kurt had monopolized Blaine’s time.
“Good old Blaine Anderson, charming and perfect, Prince Charming to the masses.”
“What do you want, Sebastian?”
“What makes you think I want something?”
Everybody always wanted something. Kurt wanted Blaine’s position. The managers wanted Blaine to smile the right way, say the right things, be the right person. The producers wanted more emotion—but only the appropriate ones, the ones they could sell for big bucks.
Blaine just wanted to make music and bring joy.
“Never mind,” Blaine said, as peacefully as he could.
Sebastian eyed him. He opened his mouth to continue, but the instructor swept in, with a clap of the hands and orders for all of them to get to their feet.
Blaine scrambled up, feeling like he’d eluded a trap.
The first song Blaine had recorded with the Warblers was their 2009 summer single. It was titled Bermuda Summer, and Blaine had a duet with Trent on the one line: “lost myself in the Bermuda triangle of your eyes.” But that had been enough, combined with his stage presence, that when popularity votes started that autumn, Blaine had made it to the top by 0.3%, edging out Wes, who had been their lead singer before.
Wes had handled everything with grace on-camera and off. The announcement was livestreamed, and Wes made his comments with dignity. He was very proud of Blaine. He was excited to sing with Blaine. He couldn’t wait to record their next single.
Off-camera, he had clasped Blaine’s shoulder and wished him congratulations. “You’ve got a voice,” he said. “Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
Blaine hadn’t understood Wes’ words at that time. He hadn’t understood until Kurt.
He hadn’t understood since Los Angeles.
Wes found him in the common area. Blaine had been pretending to read a book, something that all of the girls were interested in these days. It had been one of his assigned readings, to keep him connected with his audience. He was supposed to talk about it in his next podcast.
“Got a moment?” Wes had a way of asking questions that were more instructions than questions.
Blaine shut the book. “Sure.”
Wes didn’t bother to take him to somewhere private. There was no privacy in the dorms. If a manager or producer wasn’t around, filming behind the scenes footage for yet another release, then there was another Warbler, sharp-eyed and waiting for their chance to climb the rankings. Everybody was always watching everybody else.
Wes just sat down across from Blaine. Blaine could see several Warblers take stock, and then dismiss it. Sebastian’s gaze remained unrelenting.
“You seem a little tired these days,” Wes said. Lowly enough to avoid being heard, loudly enough so as to not arouse suspicion.
Blaine had never realized how good Wes was at playing the game until now.
“Starting up a new theatre is a lot more work than I thought it would be,” Blaine said. It was a rehearsed line, Sebastian’s gaze pulling it from his lips. “I’m excited though.”
Wes eyed him.
Blaine kept quiet. He had to learn how to let silences sit.
Finally, Wes said, “Make sure you get enough rest. Don’t let Sebastian keep you up too late with his chatter.”
Sebastian, in the corner of Blaine’s eye, affected a who, me? expression of innocence. Blaine knew he had been eavesdropping. But Trent had also been listening, and he eyed Sebastian with thoughtful wariness.
Blaine made sure to laugh. “I won’t.”
Wes patted him on the shoulder. “We’re counting on you, Blaine.”
Blaine nodded. Wes’s hand felt heavy as he squeezed.
“What was that about?”
Blaine closed his eyes. “I’m not supposed to let you keep me up too late,” he said.
“Ah, yes, the words of our esteemed leader.” Sarcasm came easily to Sebastian. “He did that on purpose, didn’t he.”
“You didn’t have to eavesdrop.”
“You think that the whole room wasn’t listening in on what our leader and our frontman were gossiping about?” He said the titles with only a slight twist.
When Blaine had won the popularity vote, he’d been instated as lead singer and frontman for the Warblers. But he didn’t have quite the presence that was needed to keep a dozen-or-so young men in line. Wes, who had been the lead singer for a season prior, had the steadying authority needed, combined with enough charisma to sway the masses. He had been announced as their leader, keeping the Warblers in line.
Officially, the Warblers voted on their leader. But their livestreamed votes were carefully scripted by producers, and everybody knew that Wes was the one to vote for. Blaine had been the first to cast his vote for Wes, a deliberate show of cooperation for the crowd.
Sebastian paused. “You want me to shut up?”
It’s always got to be about you, Blaine, doesn’t it.
Blaine squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s fine,” he said.
Sebastian was mercifully silent for a moment. And then he said, softly, “Give me something for the interviews tomorrow.”
Blaine felt every muscle in his body tense.
“They’re going to want something juicy from me. And I don’t think you want me to talk about you stripping.”
“Why would that stop you?”
“Because it bothers you,” Sebastian said, candidly. “And I’m not so much an asshole that I’m going to talk about you shirtless in front of a bunch of slavering girls. Not when you can’t even enjoy the attention properly.”
Blaine’s breath caught in his throat. “What does that mean?” Sebastian couldn’t be implying—He had to be available for his fans. He had to let them believe—
Sebastian laughed, and there was something too casual about it. “Got to stay pure for the girls, right?”
Blaine let out a quiet breath.
“Probably easier when you don’t like them in the first place.”
“Relax, Killer.” Sebastian’s voice was still too light, too easy. “I’m not going to out you in front of the nation. But I’m going to need something juicy for when they ask me what it’s like being your roommate.”
He felt cold under the blankets. “Are you threatening me?”
“I like to think of it as a favor for a favor.”
Blaine closed his eyes. “Sounds like a threat.”
“Take it as you will.”
He was very quiet. On the other side of the paper-thin walls, he could hear rustling, the sound of other Warblers settling down, preparing for another day of interviews and rehearsals and performances. And, in this room with him, Sebastian shifted, blankets rustling too-loudly in his ears.
“What do you want, Sebastian?”
A pause. “Oh, you know. Recording team would be nice.”
“That’s not my choice.”
“Oh, I know that.” Sebastian laughed, softly. “You don’t get many in this group, do you.”
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Killer. You knew what you were getting into when you joined this group.”
Blaine said, softly, “I just want to make music and make people happy.”
Sebastian was quiet. “You actually believe that, don’t you.”
“I don’t think anybody here does.”
Blaine’s fingers closed around themselves.
“Go to bed, Killer.”
Blaine whispered, “What will you tell them?”
Sebastian hummed. “You’ll just have to wait and find out with the rest of them, won’t you?”
The first time he heard Kurt sing was after they had finished recording their 2010 autumn single, a ballad called Sunny Days, Windy Nights. Kurt hadn’t made it to the recording team, not on his first popularity vote. But he was in one of the practice rooms, listening to the recording, singing along.
Kurt hadn’t been assigned to the same performance team as him, so three months of both being Warblers, and Blaine had yet to spend any time with him. He’d seen him around before, shuffling from one room to the other like so many others. But there had been no particular reason to notice Kurt, and so Blaine hadn’t.
Then he’d passed by the practice room as Kurt had opened his mouth to sing his first line, and Blaine was blown away.
He opened the door and walked in before he’d realized. “You’re amazing,” he told him, ears still echoing with the clean clear countertenor. “I haven’t heard anybody with a voice like yours.”
Kurt had preened. “Thanks. Blaine, right?”
“Yeah. You must be Kurt.”
It had been easy to fall into conversation with Kurt, to get coffee together, to take long lunches and longer dinners together. Outside of the theatre, Kurt wore hats with brooches, feathers that lilted just like his voice, as bright and bold as he was. Being with Kurt was easy, to find somebody who sang with the same joy as the birds they were named for.
The tabloids talked about how good of a friend Blaine was, how much of a mentor he was towards new members of the group, what a good influence he was. Blaine and Kurt, the two of them photographed through the wide windows of the coffee shops of New York.
Get yourselves a man like Blaine Anderson.
For over a year, Blaine had been the face of the group—his face in the center of CDs, his voice carrying the melody. With Kurt, he didn’t feel like the frontman of the Warblers. With Kurt, he just felt like—
There was something about Kurt, something that made Blaine feel seen as just Blaine. He looked at Kurt and a part of him said: ah, so this is what happiness is.
Just Blaine, making music with friends.
Just Blaine and Kurt.
They were opening in a week, and everything began to pick up with frenetic energy. Warblers in New York and Los Angeles both were going onto shows to promote their new opening. They were releasing a special CD, recording some of their old singles with the Los Angeles troupe for special on-site sales. Blaine was being rushed from one studio to the next, face being touched-up every free second.
He blinked at the to-go cup that appeared before him. Sebastian followed, settling into the seat across from him. Blaine wasn’t sure how he had ended up at this green room, the past hour a haze. But he was here, sitting on a plush couch, cup of coffee in front of him, Sebastian as well.
“What are you doing here?”
“You’re really out of it, aren’t you?” Sebastian replied. He sounded too amused. Too pleased. “Which interview is this?”
Blaine shrugged. He looked at the cup. “What’s this?”
“Coffee. Thought you could use it.”
He eyed it skeptically.
“Medium drip, dash of cinnamon.”
“You know my coffee order?”
Sebastian snorted. He fished a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. “All of your likes and dislikes right here. Had to study it up for my interview earlier today.”
“Oh.” Blaine stared down at the mug again.
“Thanks for that, by the way.”
“No problem,” he said.
Sebastian eyed him. “Not going to ask what I said about you?”
Blaine shrugged, again. He’d find out sooner or later. Probably sooner. Probably with a lecture about how he should do better, make Sebastian feel more welcome, build better bonds between the boys.
“Suit yourself.” Sebastian kicked back. “It’s not poisoned.”
Blaine managed a laugh. He sipped it—medium drip with cinnamon, just as Sebastian said. “Thanks.”
Sebastian waved it away. “You awake now?”
Blaine sipped some more coffee. “Sure.”
The interview went fine at first. Blaine, Sebastian, and a handful of the others based in LA arrayed themselves accordingly. They fielded questions about the new theatre, the teams they had divided into, how they would work with the New York Warblers on any CD and DVD releases. They would hold joint popularity polls, because though they were performing on opposite sides of the same country, they were still one group, one voice.
“Any worries about losing your position now that you’re in LA?”
Blaine felt the smile come, as it was supposed to. He felt the words come, as he had rehearsed. “If that’s what the fans want, then I’m happy.”
“Yes, there’s a popularity vote every season, isn’t there?”
“Yes. The top sixteen record the singles and albums for the season.”
“And first place gets the solos. Lucky you!”
Blaine blinked. “Everybody’s part is important.”
“Blaine’s very good,” Trent brushed in. “He’s got a great voice. It’s great singing with him.”
There was a steady murmur of agreement around him. Sebastian smiled, but didn’t say anything.
It’s always got to be about you, Blaine, doesn’t it.
Blaine glanced at the camera. Behind it, their manager watched them, arms crossed. He didn’t say anything, didn’t hold up any cues, any signs. He gave no indication of what Blaine was supposed to do.
He turned back to the host. “We couldn’t do it without the fans.” To the camera, he said. “They make us who we are.”
“Those were some pretty words,” Sebastian said.
Sebastian shrugged. “‘Everybody’s important?’ ‘Couldn’t do it without the fans?’ ‘So excited to bring our music to the west coast?’”
“Sure.” He leaned forward. “Tell us how you really feel, Anderson.”
He met Sebastian’s gaze. “That’s how I feel.”
Sebastian shrugged, suddenly loose and casual. Around them, the rest of the group milled, conspicuously not listening in. “If you say so.”
He grinned, easy and lazy. “I’ll get the truth out of you eventually, Blaine Anderson.”
Blaine said nothing and smiled back.
Five months ago, as ballots were counted for the Summer 2011 popularity vote, Blaine found Kurt at the office coffee stand.
“Hey.” Blaine sat across from him. Kurt was white-knuckled, fists tight on the tabletop. “Just got your text. What’s wrong?”
Kurt said, “I need you to get me into the recording team.”
Blaine blinked. “That’s not my choice, Kurt. The fans vote—”
Every performance they attended in-person got them a ballot. Fans could vote online as well, but in-person voting was weighted more favorably. It meant there was a buffer of time after all of the votes had been submitted, and before the results were announced: on stage, livestreamed.
“You’re the lead singer. You can say you want me with you.”
“I don’t choose who gets onto the recording team, Kurt.” Blaine blinked, rapidly. “Anyways, don’t you think you’ll get it? You’ve been on the team for a few seasons now, and you won the lottery solo last month…”
“The single that tanked?” Kurt snorted. “I’m not going to pin my hopes on that.”
“Don’t say that,” Blaine began.
“I don’t need your platitudes,” Kurt snapped. “I need you to go to the managers and say that if I’m not on the recording team you’ll quit.”
Blaine froze. “Why would I quit?”
“Don’t you want us to be together?” Kurt retorted. “How are we going to be together if you’re spending all of your time gallivanting with the recording team?”
“We’re all one group.”
“Don’t tell me you believe that shit!”
Every muscle in Blaine’s body tensed.
“Listen, Blaine. You say we’re friends but we’re more than friends. We’re like… soulmates. We understand each other. Can you really say you want to be on the recording team without me?”
His voice was smaller than he wanted it to be. “I can’t disappoint them.”
Kurt stood, eyes narrow, chin upturned. “It’s always got to be about you, Blaine, doesn’t it.”
Blaine stumbled to his feet. But he had always been shorter than Kurt. He had always been nothing without a stage.
Blaine couldn’t help but notice Sebastian throughout opening night and all of the pomp and circumstance it entailed. He wore the Dalton blazer easily, as if it had been tailored to fit him. It had been. The producers had an eye for great things, and Sebastian was slated for great things.
Parisian and handsome, with a clean-enough tenor and legs that went on for ages. Blaine could see what all of the producers saw. Sebastian moved like water, easy and confident as he made his appropriate rounds and reeled off the appropriate soundbites.
He’d had a career in France. A successful one too, if girls were sneaking into his hotel rooms. But he’d decided to drop all of that and move to America and join the Warblers.
And now here he was, sweet-talking the investors and producers, one hand in his blazer pocket, smile easy.
Trent slid up to Blaine. “Sebastian seems to fit in.”
“He used to do this in Paris, I guess.” Blaine took advantage of the reprieve from his own circuit to nibble on the hors d'oeuvres. The bruschetta was pretty good. “I’m glad he doesn’t seem to mind.”
Trent made a vaguely thoughtful noise. “Some of the New York crew’s here.”
“Yeah. Thad’s here. Supporting us, you know. Make sure you get a photo with him. It’ll look good.”
Blaine nudged him. “What are you, my manager?”
Trent laughed easily. “If I were your manager, I would have your candid photo with Thad penciled into your schedule.”
Blaine conceded the fact with a shrug.
“Wes’ already managed to get his candid photo. Thought I should give you a heads up.”
“Thanks.” Blaine wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Anybody else here?”
Trent frowned in thought, before reeling off a few names, “Oh! And Kurt, of course.”
Blaine scrubbed his fingers harder. “Kurt’s here?” His heart pounded in his ears, too fast.
“Yeah. Why are you surprised? Aren’t you guys close?”
“We haven’t really talked since we moved out here.” Blaine let his smile come, friendly and easy on the edges, just enough to keep his cheeks from scrunching. “I thought he’d be busy with New York.”
Trent eyed him. “Well, you should probably get a candid photo with him too. He’s been making the rounds.”
Blaine’s manager caught his eye and jerked his chin towards a producer. “That’s my cue.” Blaine raised his glass. “See you later.”
The next hour passed in a steady blur of producers and investors, elevator music lingering on the edges of his ears. Blaine shook hands, murmured platitudes, and repeated himself, over, and over, and over, until his voice seemed not his own.
“Guess some things never change.”
Blaine turned. “Kurt!” He turned, fishing the investor’s name from his memory. “Mr. Ramos, have you met Kurt Hummel yet? He’s one of the New York Warblers.”
“Pleasure,” Kurt said, proffering his hand daintily.
“Yes,” Mr. Ramos said. “Didn’t you solo on a single?”
Kurt beamed. “Yes. This spring.”
“Very good.” He turned back to Blaine. “I look forward to seeing how the Los Angeles theatre does.”
Blaine smiled his best smile back. “I look forward to showing you.”
Once the investor had departed, Kurt turned to him. “So. Los Angeles.”
“It’s a nice city,” Blaine said, too weakly.
“Sure. It’s no New York.” Kurt sounded light enough, but Blaine knew him. He could recognize the scorn.
“I’m surprised you came out for opening night.” His voice sounded distant to his own ears.
“My manager made me,” he replied.
Blaine sipped his drink. His manager lifted his phone. Blaine forced his posture into something friendly and easy in time for the shutter click.
Kurt sneered. “Still thinking only of yourself, aren’t you, Blaine.”
“I’m doing my job,” Blaine replied.
“Because that’s all that matters to you. Your position.”
“That’s not it, Kurt.”
“Then what is it?” His voice rose.
Blaine glanced away to hide his grimace. On the other side of the room, Sebastian raised his head and met his gaze.
Kurt continued, “Can’t get enough of everybody loving you, can you?”
“That’s not—” He glanced around, but the room was crowded enough that everybody was pretending to be occupied.
“Don’t want people to know about you?”
Blaine’s manager started to make his way over.
Blaine took a breath. “I have more people to talk to.”
“Of course you do.” Kurt caught sight of Blaine’s manager. His smile turned sickly sweet. “I’m sure you’ll charm everybody. You always do.”
Blaine turned and fled.
“So who was that?”
Blaine closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.
“I know you aren’t asleep,” Sebastian said. He was leaning against his headboard, fiddling with his phone. “You snore.”
“I do not!”
“Knew you weren’t asleep.”
Blaine groaned. “Was that on purpose?”
“Maybe,” he drawled. “But who was that?”
“Who was who?”
“That Warbler you got all angry at.”
“I don’t get angry at Warblers,” Blaine muttered back. “We’re a team. It’s counterproductive.”
“Save that to the press.” He let out a little hum. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to name names. Just say yes or no. I didn’t recognize him, and I’d have remembered that gay of a face if they were one of us LA birds. So it has to be one of those New York ones, come to celebrate.”
Blaine bit his tongue.
Sebastian continued, “It couldn’t have been Thad, because he came up and introduced himself. And Matt has a much better ass than that one. Who else from New York was here? Andrew? Anthony? Kurt?”
Blaine refused to respond.
“Martin?” Another pause. “No. The only Warbler with that unfortunate of a face is Kurt Hummel.”
Blaine scrunched his eyes tight.
“Kurt Hummel.” A pause, and then the spring single began playing. Blaine could recognize Candlelight Nights in his sleep. Sebastian let it play through the first verse and the chorus before pausing the song. “He got a solo with that voice?”
“He’s got a good voice,” Blaine replied, tired.
“Sounds like you’ve said that to a lot of reporters.” There was a clatter as Sebastian tossed his phone aside. “So, what’s between the two of you?”
“Would Hummel tell me that?”
“I don’t think Kurt would tell you anything if you told him what you told me,” Blaine replied, forcing his tone into something jovial.
“Ah.” Sebastian went quiet for a moment. “So I’ll just have to pry it from you.”
Blaine squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m tired.” His voice was tight. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Sebastian huffed a laugh. “Alright. I’ll hold you to that.”
Blaine closed his eyes shut. But for all of his claims, it was a long time before he fell asleep.
When Blaine was young, he fell in love.
Not with a girl. Not the way his relatives hoped for, his parents expected. Blaine looked at the girls in his life and felt nothing but an abiding affection for them, something sedate and warm.
Not with a boy. Too young to understand what it meant to love somebody romantically, too sheltered to know that that was an option for him.
Blaine fell in love with music.
He started with the voice, curling his vocal cords over notes with wild abandon with his brother Cooper. Every note that Cooper sang, he sang along with, following the keys that he could hear but had no words for.
He moved to piano, tapping the keys of the old mini-grand in the living room. He played with wild abandon, relying only on his ears and his heart to tell him what to play.
He picked up a violin when he was six, studying the music in earnest. He had words to describe the melodies he heard: major, minor, tonic, chromatic—each word describing a sensation he had only heard, only felt. He learned to study music, to look at it as more than a rush of sound and sensation, but to see the patterns, to mold it with his hands.
He loved music. He couldn’t imagine living a life without music.
He wanted nothing more than to share it with the world.
Sebastian cornered him after lunch.
“Sebastian,” Blaine said, something uncertain rolling in his stomach. He wondered if it was the chicken he had just eaten.
“Just the man I was looking for.” Sebastian’s voice was too jovial. “Let’s get coffee.”
“Now?” Neither of them were performing tonight, but Blaine usually went to the pre-show rehearsals regardless of if he was performing.
“What, you busy?”
Blaine mutely shook his head.
“Good.” Sebastian started to head out of the building.
“Where else would we go?”
“I thought we’d just go to the cafeteria. Or maybe the coffee stand inside.”
Sebastian paused. “So that’s a no to coffee?”
Blaine shook his head. “I just.” He closed his mouth.
Sebastian paused, almost considering. “Sure.”
Sebastian shrugged. “See you around, Anderson.”
Blaine gaped as Sebastian sauntered off. He turned to head to rehearsal—
“Oh.” Sebastian turned. There was a smug smirk on his lips. “I almost forgot to say.”
“Your little purity schtick. You know. The thing about how you really really care about the fans and that?”
“It’s not a schtick.”
Sebastian ignored him. “After all that, I never really pegged you for the type who’d have the balls to date somebody, even secretly.”
His voice caught in his throat. “Who—”
“Trent has a big mouth.” Sebastian’s voice was easy. “He was happy to tell me all about your friendship with Hummel. Really now. Hummel? You could do better.”
“What do you want?”
Sebastian grinned, all teeth. “Let’s start with coffee. In public.”
He had been friends with Kurt. Good friends. They’d gone for coffee between rehearsals, laughing and lingering at the tables until they had to run to get back to work. They’d spent their lunches with their heads bent together, trading tastes of their food. Kurt confided in Blaine, and it was easy to confide back: to commiserate about the female pronouns in every song they sang with their heads brushed close. They’d left work together, so close their hands could have touched, going out to late-night diners, 24-hour cafes, safe places to be caught, with both of them still underage.
They’d spent days together. Weeks. Months. Kurt always found the time to get lunch or dinner, as Blaine shuffled from rehearsal to performance, from recording to filming, from TV drama audition to TV drama rehearsal to TV drama filming. Blaine would look down at his phone at any free moment he had, and there would be a message from Kurt.
Being with Kurt felt like singing a song that he had always known the melody of. Every day, every minute; every word felt like something true being put to a tune only he understood.
The rumor blogs were filled with photos of the two of them together. The fans came to signings and asked how long they’d known each other. The other Warblers whispered behind their backs, but Blaine never paid them any mind.
Wes and the others made little comment about his friendship with Kurt. Trent said it was good that he was socializing more. Wes said it was nice that he was making friendships. Thad said it was good to be seen with Warblers from other performance teams.
When the next popularity poll came around, Kurt had earned a spot in the recording team.
They spent more time together at work. But Kurt was busier, and the texts outside of work came slower and slower.
Kurt was busy.
Blaine made a noncommittal noise into his coffee. It was their third coffee this week. Sebastian had gotten good at finding ways to corner him and drag him to coffee outside, where tabloid photographers and gossip bloggers alike could find them.
There was something uncomfortably familiar about the coffee shops, cozy spaces with too-large windows. Variations on the same theme. A country apart, and Blaine found himself in the same places that he’d haunted with Kurt. The sun was brighter, the coffee sweeter, the boy across from him different, and yet.
“It couldn’t have been his looks,” he said, brazen and casual in public. Sebastian had already managed to foster an image of casual disdain, wearing it with charm. Blaine wouldn’t have been able to get away with the statement. Sebastian had already gotten away with worse.
“We were good friends,” Blaine said.
“Were,” Sebastian leapt on the word. “What happened? You found a better ass and Ladyface Hummel couldn’t stand it?”
“Do you have to do this in public?”
“Where else would we get a nice and private conversation?”
“I wouldn’t call a crowded coffee shop private.” In the corner of his eye, he saw a phone lift, and he almost flinched. The shutter wasn’t directed at them. He relaxed.
Sebastian hummed casually. “Depends on your definition.”
Blaine sipped the coffee. He didn’t say anything.
Sebastian’s gaze was too piercing. Finally, he stood, tossing his empty cup into the trash. “Alright, Killer. Let’s get back to work.”
Blaine scrambled to his feet. “That’s it?”
“This. We just… sat.”
“Sure. Unless you want to tell me why you spent those months with Hummel.”
“He—we got along. We had things to talk about.”
Like their favorite musicals. Like their love for performing. Like Kurt’s childhood, his struggles with his father, his step-brother, his love for fashion, his friends he’d left in Ohio.
Like how much they loved music.
“Why do you want to know?”
Sebastian shrugged, heading out of the café. “What? I can’t be curious how a face that gay got into Prince Charming’s pants?”
“You aren’t winning points with the nicknames.”
“Not a fan of Prince Charming?”
Blaine shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. He wasn’t a fan, but that hadn’t been the nickname he was protesting.
“Alright.” He didn’t seem bothered. “Killer, then.”
Blaine echoed, “Killer?”
“Sure. Like Ladykiller. Like, ‘kills it every time’. Take your pick. Bit more bite than Prince Charming.” Sebastian turned, and there was no smirk on his face, just an easy amusement. “Suits you a bit more than Prince Charming, in my opinion.”
In the middle of a Los Angeles parking lot, the sun high in the sky, burning across their skin, Sebastian stood before him. His eyes were very green as he, with utter sincerity, said, “Prince Charming gets what he wants because the story ordains it. But you? You fight for what you want.”
Blaine and Sebastian weren’t on the same performance team; some nights, Blaine came back to his room late after a performance to Sebastian fiddling on his phone. Other nights, Blaine was listening to music with the lights off when Sebastian came back, sweaty with exertion.
With the theatre opened, performances started regularly, every night, some afternoons. They had made a promise, to bring the Warblers to the west coast, to bring their music to everybody. Their nights were filled with music, their afternoons filled with music, their mornings filled with music.
But even as their performances and rehearsals settled into a regular routine, a thrum of tension took to the teams. Everybody wanted to stand out. Everybody wanted to be better.
Popularity voting had started.
The tension didn’t seem to stop Sebastian. He still insisted on lunch in public, though dinners seemed to tail off. There were still coffee outings, in brightly-lit shops with wide windows for anybody to gaze in. And all of their public outings didn’t stop Sebastian from low conversations late at night: commentary on which Warblers had asses good enough to tap (none of them, except Blaine).
The tension didn’t stop Sebastian from speaking of his time of Paris: of the rain on the cobblestones, of the freshly baked bread in the mornings. He talked less of the girls who had crowded him, and more of how the brick felt on his feet, how the pavement warmed in the winter and cooled in the winter, how the air brought with it the seasons.
“None of that in sunny Southern California,” he concluded.
“You miss it,” Blaine murmured, lulled half to sleep by Sebastian’s words.
With the way Sebastian described Paris, Blaine couldn’t imagine wanting to leave. But, in the late night, it was easy to forget his inhibitions.
“Why did you come here?” Blaine asked.
There was a pause, and Sebastian said, “I wonder.”
There was a quiet sorrow in his voice, something honest. Blaine opened his eyes.
“Are you… are you alright?”
“It’s just.” Blaine hesitated. “We’re not friends, not really, but—”
“Oh? I see how it is.”
Sebastian took a deep breath, before turning, his back to Blaine. “Good night, Blaine.”
Sebastian didn’t ask him to coffee the next day, or the day after.
Recording team announcements were public events, livestreamed to the world, reported by newspapers and television channels alike. Each season, the Warblers were summoned to the theatre, arrayed on stage in rows, and called, one at a time, as they were voted onto the recording team in reverse popularity order.
The Warblers sat with bated breath, their imminent future beyond their control. His first time, Blaine had clasped his hands together in his lap, nails digging into his palms. As each name was called out, Blaine’s nails had dug deeper and deeper.
And then, with only one name left to call, Old Man Dalton had looked at the large screen behind the boys and shouted, “Blaine Anderson!”
That was the first time.
Every time afterwards, Blaine sat with the others, hands clasped until the very end, when his name was called. The rankings at the bottom fluctuated, names joining the group, names leaving the group, but every time regardless, Blaine’s varnished nails dug into the soft skin of his palm.
And then, five months ago, as they sat with their backs to the screen as names were called and clips were played, Blaine waited and waited and waited until at the end, his name was called, and he stood to join the rest of the group, standing front and center, flanked by Wes and Thad.
Kurt was not among them.
And that evening, when they met up, recording team and non-recording team, Kurt tipped his glass onto Blaine’s blazer and cooed an apology, running a hand down Blaine’s arm, smiling sweetly.
Blaine stared speechlessly at Kurt, the hand on his blazer, the gleam on his eye, and then turned his head to see his manager’s disapproving gaze.
A month later, he was packing his bags for Los Angeles.
Sebastian asked him to coffee four days later, as if nothing had happened. He had an in-depth assessment of Warber assets, and he spent the entire to-go cup explaining his rubric.
Compared to the silence of several days earlier, it was almost a relief to get back to afternoons with Sebastian. And, that evening, as Sebastian came back from his Thursday performance, still flushed, Blaine didn’t keep his eyes closed in feigned sleep.
“Missed me?” Sebastian drawled.
Blaine wished he’d closed his eyes. “No.”
“So you did miss me.” Sebastian smirked.
Sebastian’s laugh was light as he prepared for bed. As the room went dark, and silence settled over them, Sebastian said, “You still have the best ass in the group.”
“I’m serious, Killer. You could do anything with that ass. Launch a hundred ships.”
“I’m not Helen of Troy.”
“You could be.”
Blaine was quiet. “Are you ever serious?”
“I’m always serious about your ass.”
“I mean it.”
Sebastian said, “I mean it too.”
Blaine closed his eyes. “If I asked you something, you could answer me seriously?”
Sebastian’s voice was low. “Sure.”
Blaine hesitated, before he asked, “Why did you come to the US?”
He thought that Sebastian might make a glib comment. Broke too many hearts to stay. Had too many girls climbing into air ducts and had to leave. As the silence drew longer, he thought Sebastian might have thought the same comments, and discarded them one by one.
Sebastian said, very softly, “Ask me something else.”
Blaine thought. There was nothing but the quiet drone of the fan circulating air in the room. “Why did you want to get coffee with me?”
“Who wouldn’t want to get coffee with you?”
There were plenty of people who wouldn’t. There were plenty of people who would. There were plenty more people who would get coffee with him for his nebulous position as the most popular Warbler.
Blaine said, “Why did you want it to be in public?”
“Maybe I like being seen with a cute guy in public.”
He froze. “You—”
“I’m tired, Blaine.”
Blaine tried, “Sebastian—”
Thad called him. “What’s with you and Sebastian?”
“Sebastian?” Blaine echoed.
“We get tabloids here in New York.”
“What about Sebastian?”
“You seem close with him.”
Thad barked a laugh. “Roommates don’t get coffee every day.”
Blaine said nothing. He knew that. He had never spent so much time with Thad, when they were rooming together in New York.
“Just be careful, Blaine.”
“We’re just roommates,” he tried, again.
And they were. They might get coffee or lunch, but Sebastian never sought him out otherwise. Sebastian might know his coffee order, but it was out of necessity rather than interest. Sebastian might nudge with a shoulder, an elbow—but he never touched him with more than casual touches that couldn’t be misconstrued.
Maybe I like being seen with a cute guy in public.
Sebastian, for all of his assurances of seriousness, was a chronic joker, unable to resist a glib comment. It didn’t mean anything. It couldn’t mean anything. Sebastian knew the song they had to sing better than Blaine.
“You said that about Kurt.”
“Kurt and I weren’t roommates,” Blaine said, deliberately oblivious.
Blaine could hear Thad’s grimace over the phone. “You know that I mean. Listen, you’re my friend, Blaine.”
Blaine hummed vaguely.
“And as your friend, I’m telling you that whatever you and Sebastian are up to, you better be okay with the consequences.”
“Okay,” Blaine agreed. “I am.”
“Are you? You know what your reputation is like.”
“We’re roommates. It’s not weird that we get along.”
“I have to get to rehearsal, Thad.”
He hung up. The phone hung loosely in his hand.
He wasn’t up to anything with Sebastian. It was all Sebastian, and his pushy demands for coffee. Sebastian, who thought it was funny to make jokes about Blaine. Sebastian, with his memories of Paris like raindrops twinkling on the windowpanes, distorted from nostalgia.
Maybe I like being seen with a cute guy in public.
Sebastian, his voice light, but honest all the same.
He was sitting in the dance studio, towel on his forehead, going over the choreography, when Sebastian dropped a Gatorade bottle in his lap.
He pulled the towel off his head. “What?”
Sebastian jerked his chin at the water bottle. “Sorry it’s not coffee.” His voice was only slightly mocking. “But you look like you’d rather have the hydration.”
He twisted the cap open. It was blue raspberry, his favorite flavor. He didn’t know if his favorite Gatorade flavor was part of the trivia Sebastian was required to memorize. He didn’t think so. “Thanks,” he said.
“No problem, Killer. Try not to ruin the floorboards with your practice.”
Blaine stared at Sebastian’s back as he sauntered out. He looked down at the drink, and then up to see Nick’s narrow-eyed stare.
“What was that about?” Nick said.
Nick glanced at the door as it swung shut, and then back at Blaine. “How did he even know you had rehearsal now?”
“I don’t have my roommate’s schedule memorized.”
Nick’s mouth parted, almost comically. “Blaine,” he breathed. “Really?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Blaine responded, instantly.
He glanced around, and then leaned in. “Is this serious?”
Blaine stared down at the drink. The liquid was a lurid blue.
“I don’t know,” he said, and the words were like a condemnation. He didn’t know what he and Sebastian were up to, but he thought he could continue with it.
A week later, when the announcement for the 2011 Winter Recording Team was made, Blaine stood in the center of the stage, Sebastian standing beside him. He had a smirk on his face. It was deserved. Sebastian’s first vote, and he had made it onto the team.
Kurt’s gaze burned a hole in the back of his neck as Blaine stood in the center. He hadn’t made it.
The next day, Sebastian didn’t ask for coffee.
Or the day afterwards.
Blaine didn’t bring it up. At night, Sebastian turned the lights off and went to sleep without a word.
The night felt suffocating, and he didn’t know what to do.
During the months that Kurt had been part of the performance team, he had come down with a spate of obligations that kept him too busy from meeting with Blaine.
Blaine knew, first-hand, how the performance team took up what spare time he had. Suddenly there were TV show performances, rehearsals for upcoming singles, recordings to prepare for. There were interviews and meetings. There was an endless spate of places to go and things to do.
He thought nothing of it, until he found Kurt lounging with his phone at a café when he had just brushed off Blaine with a claim that he was busy.
Kurt’s head jerked up. “Blaine! What are you doing here?”
“I should be asking you that.” Blaine’s fingers curled, helplessly. “I thought. You told me you were busy.”
Kurt laughed. “What?”
“You told me—” He took a deep breath. “What are you doing here, Kurt?”
“Getting coffee.” He straightened. “What about it?”
Blaine thought of every text that brushed off his invites to talk, to hangout, to get coffee or lunch. “You seemed too busy for coffee when I texted you.”
Kurt laughed. “Oh, don’t be so needy, Blaine.”
“Now that I’m on the recording team, you have time for me? Weren’t you so busy just a few months ago?”
“I was busy.” Blaine insisted, “I always made time for you.”
“Of course,” he dismissed.
Blaine glanced away, bewildered. On the table, was a stack of glossy photos, the two of them getting coffee, getting lunch, getting dinner, all in wide-open restaurants with clear windows.
“What’s this?” Blaine’s mouth was dry.
“Just some pictures.” He moved to sweep them away.
Blaine picked one up. They were leaning close to each other, laughing. He didn’t remember when it could have been taken. “What are you doing with these?”
Kurt didn’t answer.
“These… these are like tabloid photos, Kurt.”
“What about it?”
“What are you doing with tabloid photos of me?”
Kurt snorted. “You think you’re the only one popular enough for a tabloid?”
Blaine didn’t say anything. He had never paid attention to the tabloids if he could help it, but he was remembering the increasing spate of tabloid photos that had followed them the closer he had gotten to Kurt. “Did you… did you take these?”
“That’s crazy talk.” Kurt didn’t deny it.
“You sold my photos to the tabloid,” Blaine realized. “Why?”
Kurt tossed his head.
Something began to make itself clear in his head. “You… wanted to make it into the tabloids? You sold photos to the tabloids to be popular?”
He rolled his eyes.
Blaine’s fingers tightened on the photo. They had been smiling. He didn’t feel like smiling anymore.
Kurt’s voice was brisk. “I don’t see why you’re so upset.”
Blaine’s throat tightened.
“After everything I did for you, you’d think you’d be able to give a little back.”
“After everything you did?” he echoed.
“All that support I gave you, spending all of that time checking in on you, making sure you were fine?” His nose wrinkled. “Turns out Blaine Anderson can’t even support his friends.”
He croaked, “I do support you.”
His voice was shrill. “Well, you don’t show it. You know how much performing means to me. You don’t think anything of it, but some of us have the talent and skill and aren’t being seen. I thought you wanted me to get noticed!”
Blaine shook his head.
Kurt decided, “I did what I had to. I did what was necessary to make it.”
Blaine’s voice was a crack in his throat. “You used me.”
He promised himself that he would never let it happen again.
Blaine found Sebastian in a coffee shop with wide windows and high ceilings, wooden floors and green walls. They’d gone to it together a dozen times already.
“Is this what it was all about?”
Sebastian sipped the coffee. “You’ll have to be more specific, Killer.”
“The coffee. The lunches.” The talks. “The dinners.” His hands closed. “Was it all just for a popularity vote?”
Sebastian looked at him. “Is that what you think of me?”
He thought of Kurt, ‘busy’ after he had made the team. Kurt, demanding to be put onto the team. Kurt, who didn’t spend quiet evenings talking about Paris.
“I don’t know what I think about you.” His hands shook. “I don’t know you at all.”
“Now that’s cold. Not even my coffee order?”
Sebastian knew his coffee order. He knew his favorite color, his favorite food, his favorite song. All of the necessary answers if asked questions in an interview. Blaine had the same list somewhere in his binder of interview preparation. They knew everything about each other, except what mattered.
“Just… be honest with me, Sebastian.”
“I’m always honest.”
“Stop joking.” He closed his fingers into his fist. “Stop.”
Sebastian said nothing.
There were a dozen accusations he could make, a dozen statements. There were a thousand questions he could ask. He didn’t want to hear the answers anymore. He didn’t want to ask the questions. “I thought you were different from Kurt,” he finally said.
Sebastian’s face was blank.
“I was wrong.”
Sebastian tried to talk to him that night, and the night after, and the night after that.
He feigned sleep until it came to him.
Blaine had plenty of acting experience, after all.
That first time, after he had stood in the center of the Warblers as Old Man Dalton announced his name as the winner of the popularity vote and the lead singer of the Warblers for the upcoming season, after all of the congratulations and shoulder claps, after all of the photos and smiles, Blaine had been summoned to a meeting with his managers and the producers.
“This is a large responsibility,” they said to him. “You have a responsibility to your fans. You have a responsibility to the group.”
Blaine had nodded.
Their gazes had the weight of expectation. It was a gaze Blaine would get used to, as seasons passed, as votes were submitted, as songs were sung and recorded.
His manager had taken to the side. “I know you can do this, Blaine.”
He had nodded.
“I need you do this for us. For me. For the group and the fans. Do you think you can?”
Blaine hadn’t refused.
He would be the perfect frontman, charming and kind. He would never let his teammates doubt his willingness. He would never let his fans doubt his sincerity. He would sing and dance and make music to his heart’s content.
And in return, he would sell a dream: Blaine Anderson, straight and perpetually single, always available to his myriad of female fans.
He could do it.
He couldn’t avoid Sebastian, not with both of them in the recording team. They had rehearsals together now, for the Christmas album and myriad of TV performances that were planned.
Blaine was a good actor. He did nothing to show that they had argued. They had never been friends, and it was easy to go back to being roommates who only knew all of the intimate details of each other’s lives.
Wes pulled him aside, after a rehearsal. “So it didn’t turn out well.”
Blaine smiled his Warbler smile back. “Wes? What are you talking about?”
Wes shook his head. “Blaine. Stop that. You don’t need to do that with me.”
Blaine didn’t blink.
“I know what the expectations are like,” Wes said. “I know what you represent. I know what you provide.”
Blaine’s smile faltered.
“I have the same meetings with the producers,” Wes continued. “They tell me I’m the leader and I have a responsibility to the group. Or did you forget?”
He stopped smiling.
Blaine managed, “It’s fine.”
Wes said, “I love this group too. As much as you. I was there since the beginning.” Wes had been in the first performing group. He had been around since the group’s inception. “But Blaine…”
He didn’t respond.
“You’re more than the group.” Wes’s eyes were dark and intense. “You know that, right?”
Wes studied him. He didn’t believe him. That was fine. Blaine didn’t know if he believed himself.
What mattered was doing whatever the Warblers needed. And what the Warblers needed was for Blaine to be the frontman that he was capable of being. Sensitive and kind. Considerate and passionate. Well-mannered and charming.
And if that meant that he was never meant to be with Sebastian with Kurt, with any of the other Warblers who saw him only as a stepping stone for their own fame, then that was fine.
Blaine was a professional, doing the job he had to.
That was it.
That should have been enough.
Kurt’s voice had been wounded, “I thought you liked me.”
“I do.” The coffee shop was bright, wood panels and wide windows. It had been a hot summer’s day, the air heavy. Inside, the air conditioner whirred, driving away the lingering edges of the city humidity. New York in the summer. It had been a hot summer, that last summer before Blaine had moved to Los Angeles. “Kurt.”
Kurt leaned forward. “I thought you… like-liked me.”
Blaine inhaled, sharply. “Kurt.”
His hand covered Blaine’s. Blaine pulled back.
Kurt’s head jerked up, his mouth pursed.
“I can’t.” He had no other words. “I can’t, Kurt.”
“I know you’re gay.”
“I might not be,” he said, weakly, “I might be bi.”
Kurt snorted. “Bisexuality is for stars who can’t come out of the closet.”
He shook his head. “I can’t.”
“Is your reputation more important than me?”
Blaine curled his arms tight around himself. What was he, without music? What was he, without the group?
Blaine was summoned to the producer’s office on a Thursday.
His manager’s face was thunderous as he slapped the magazine down. Blaine and Kurt’s faces were plastered on the front, uncomfortably close. They were in a cozy coffee shop, one with large windows for anybody to look into. Blaine didn’t need to recognize the setting to know.
His manager didn’t roar, but he heard the menace in it all the same. “What’s the meaning of this?”
The lurid text read: Blaine Warbler Exposed! In smaller text it said: the scandalous details of Blaine Anderson’s gay affairs.
Blaine stared down. The sans-serif font seemed so far away.
How long had Kurt held onto the photos? How long had he been waiting? He’d held onto them for an entire season, waiting. For what?
The producer leaned forward, paternal. “Blaine,” he said, soothingly. “Can you explain?”
There was nothing to explain. They had just been friends. He had never let it get that far.
Crack! His manager slapped the magazine against the table. Crack!
The producer said, “It’s so unlike you to be so inconsiderate of the group.”
He had just wanted to be Blaine Anderson. He had just wanted to make music.
His manager riffled through the magazine. “I thought you’d learned after you moved here.”
The producer leaned back. “We just want what’s best for you and your career,” he soothed.
There were pictures of him and Sebastian. Had Sebastian arranged for the photos? Had he, like Kurt, planned every outing so they would get seen through wide windows and empty streets?
An anonymous source had provided a dozen quotes. Kurt’s words were printed in bold font.
It’s easy for him to remain single, when the only people throwing themselves at him are girls.
His manager seethed, “Do you know what this will do to our reputation?”
The producer shook his head. “We’re disappointed in you, Blaine.”
Blaine didn’t look up. The bright colors of New York, the sunshine of Los Angeles. In both places, it was the same.
His manager, the producer, their voices were a blur, pounding his ears in a repetitive beat, persistent as the ache in his chest.
Blaine had only wanted to make music.
“Blaine Anderson! Is it true that you’re gay?”
“Blaine Anderson! Any comment about your love affair with your bandmates?”
He said nothing.
“Blaine Anderson! Any response to Hummel’s allegation that you coerced him into a relationship?”
Blaine ducked his head.
A girl stood before him. Two girls, so close as to be hand-in-hand. They looked nothing alike. They looked everything alike.
“Blaine,” she said, voice shaking. “Are you really?”
He looked at where their hands almost touched, and he wished he had something to say.
It had been so easy, in the beginning. Sing this song. Dance this dance. Perform this production. They told him what to do, and he did it without question. Just one voice within a crowd of many, it had been easy to fade into the background until summoned to the spotlight. He had done as he was told without question.
Every year, every season, every week, every day—there was always a new song to sing, a new single to record, a new album to promote. It was an unending list of tasks, but they were all worth it, when he got to stand on stage, bright lights in his eyes and a song in his throat. It was worth it for the cheers that echoed in his ears, the knowledge that he had done it, that he had made them happy.
Every year, the song changed. Every season, they debuted a new single. There was always a new song to learn, a new song to sing.
A new song to be placed onto his tongue, regardless of whether it belonged.
He moved into a single room. Sebastian got a new roommate.
His manager wanted to schedule an interview with the press, but Blaine couldn’t bring himself to read the words he was supposed to say.
He said nothing instead.
He attended rehearsals. He attended his performances. He did everything he was supposed to do, except disavow himself in public.
His manager had taken to narrow-eyed stares. The producers shook their heads sadly as he walked by. The whispers followed him everywhere he went.
He knew what he had to do to make them stop. He knew what he had to do.
He didn’t know if he could sing that song.
Wes found him in the corner of the hallway, where the vending machines were. Blaine was pretending to study every flavor of Gatorade available. They didn’t have blue raspberry.
“Blaine,” he said. He didn’t touch Blaine. “How are you holding up?”
Wes was quiet for a while. He finally said, “I’m sorry.”
Blaine said, “You didn’t do anything.”
Wes said, “No. I didn’t.” He straightened. “I’m sorry I didn’t help you sooner.”
That night, he was lying in bed, turning Wes’ words in his head when the door opened. “Blaine.”
He knew that voice too well. “Go away.”
“I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Too bad.” Sebastian took up the entire entryway of the tiny dorm. “I’m not leaving.”
Blaine ground his teeth together. “Sebastian.”
“Blaine.” His chin lifted. “You asked me to be honest with you.”
Blaine inhaled tightly through his nose.
“I never lied to you,” he said. “I meant every word I said.”
Blaine’s chin lifted. “I’m sure you did.”
He said, “I’m not sorry for anything I said.” He took a breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this.”
Blaine hated that he was curious despite himself.
“I never told you what I said to the interviewers.”
The topic made him blink. He had put the interview out of his mind, and with no news, he had forgotten that night, Sebastian asking for something juicy for the interviews.
“They didn’t print it. The producers wouldn’t let them.” Sebastian stared at him. His voice was honest. “I said you were sex on a stick and sang like a dream.”
It’s always got to be about you, Blaine, doesn’t it.
“I made a promise when I came to America.” He looked away, for a moment. “I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t let them change me the way they wanted to in Paris.”
Blaine’s throat tightened.
“You know the drill. Go to a few cafes. Sit outside with a model. Lean forward and flirt a bit.”
The scenario seemed eerily familiar.
“And always with a girl.”
Blaine opened his mouth.
“I promised I wouldn’t pretend to be anybody I wasn’t.”
Maybe I like being seen in public with a cute guy.
“So I didn’t.”
Blaine stared. Sebastian met his gaze with the unwavering confidence of certainty.
“I’ve never pretended. Not to you. That’s the truth, Blaine.” His back was straight. “I’ve never lied to you.”
Blaine looked back at him.
Sebastian turned, and he didn’t look back as he left.
Wes met his gaze at dance rehearsal the next day, and there was no shame. Just the steady gaze of somebody who knew what he should do and did it.
Sebastian met his gaze at vocal lessons the next day, and there was no shame. Just the steady gaze of somebody who knew himself and was determined not to move astray.
His manager stared at him throughout the day, and there was no shame. Just the steady gaze of somebody what knew what he wanted and what he would do to get it.
That day, in front of the producers, Blaine agreed to hold a press conference.
There had been a question, that first night in Los Angeles, sharing a room with Sebastian.
So, give me the downlow. What was the worst thing you’ve done in this group?
He had a dozen answers, prepared for interviews and press conferences. He had talked about how embarrassing it was to strip in front of a crowd for the first time. He had talked about how he’d lost his voice on a high note. He’d talked about a dozen banalities.
He didn’t answer Sebastian.
In front of the crowd, flanked by his manager and producers, he looked down at the prepared notes. They had written them for him, every word. He knew what it said. I am not interested in men.
He leaned forward into the microphone. “Good afternoon,” he said, his voice resonating into the speakers. “My name is Blaine Anderson of the Warblers. Thank you for coming today.”
He looked down at the paper.
“There have been rumors about my relationships.”
Kurt, who had cajoled him out to coffee. Sebastian, who had wanted to be seen with a cute guy. And Blaine, who had wanted to make music that brought people joy.
“After spending so many hours together rehearsing and performing, I’ve developed close friendships with my fellow bandmates. We’ve spent many hours outside together as friends.”
You’re more than the group.
“We were just friends,” Blaine said. “We were not in a relationship.”
He thought of those two girls, their hands almost touching.
He looked down at the paper. I am not a homosexual. I am not interested in men.
I promised I wouldn’t pretend to be anybody I wasn’t.
“But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be.”
His manager’s head swiveled to him.
His fingers clenched the paper, crumpling it. “I hid my homosexuality for the group.” He cast his mind out for words, any words that would let him say what he needed to. “They asked me to pretend to like girls, but asked me to never date one. They asked me to be everything that the group needed.”
The producer jerked forward. “That’s it for today!”
You’ve got a voice. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
He jerked to his feet. He had one chance. He leaned forward, into the microphone, and the words tumbled over each other. “I’m not going to lie anymore.” He heard the microphone click off, and in the susurrus of sound, he filled his lungs—
—and made music.