The sun is setting and Blair sits at the kitchen island, dark marble under her drumming fingers. It’s quiet, the windows in the living room open, letting in the hot late-August wind. There’s hardly a view, the tenth floor apartment overlooking an old brick church across the street, it’s cross casting a shadow on the sidewalk in front of it in the waning light. She’s been biting back tears all morning, and she blames it on hormones, and not on the fact that the elevator was out, the floorboards are creaky, that Dorota just left after setting everything into place and insisting she make Blair something to eat, that she left and now Blair’s alone - all alone in the high-ceilinged kitchen with the open window and the wind. All alone.
The days leading up to the move had been exciting, and she’d bragged to anyone who would listen about the roommate she’d be getting, the daughter of a diplomat who has ties all over Europe. Serena had pressed a lingering kiss to her cheek before she’d piled into the car, leaving the window down so she could watch her blonde hair whip off her shoulders in the wind. She didn’t cry then and she won’t cry now. She hadn’t even cried when she got in - it wasn’t a surprise or an accomplishment, really - it was all part of the plan. She’d gotten everything she wanted. Here she is, four days before classes start, sitting in an apartment in New Haven, all alone.
Blair’s already asleep by the time Dasha comes in, the roommate with the ties and the security detail and an afghan blanket and rug and coffee table settings she insists on decorating the apartment with. They exchange introductions in the morning - Dasha is pretty and blunt and strong-accented and she makes Blair want to bang her head against the wall. There is no way Blair could ever control her, there’s no way Blair could even reason with her to get rid of all the dark, ugly things she’s keeping in this apartment. But Blair doesn’t cry - she’s gotten everything she’s ever wanted.
And so Serena and her mother and Dorota and Chuck are eighty miles away, and Blair is all alone in a room with no windows and walls that were dark grey but she got painted white before she arrived - one thing she could control at a time. She takes stock of things she brought with her like an evidence log: porcelain music box from her father, Louboutin’s still in their dust bags, white-framed photo of her and Serena with twin smiles. Remnants of a life that’s moving on without her there, all slightly out of place here, less concrete and more circumstantial. There’s a box of Ladurée macarons in the fridge and she’ll finish them tonight, never good at pacing herself, and when they’re gone she’ll cry into her pillow and blame it on hormones, and she’ll wake up tomorrow and she’ll still have everything she wanted.
The first day of classes brings a whole new spirit, the campus busy with book carrying bodies, the sky pink by midday. Sleek, black Chanel pumps with ruffled white socks and a plaid skirt, matching headband, everything perfectly in place and just Constance enough to make her still feel at the top. No one else from Constance is here, and so her stronghold on the freshman is nonexistent. It also means that it’s been four days without a single post about her on Gossip Girl, the last regarding her move and deeming her out of practice and no longer essential update worthy. She still checks her phone when she gets out of class and finds that Nate’s first day at Columbia has generated three posts by lunch, Serena’s first day not at Brown updated on the hour. She’s glad, really, that she’s graduated to a higher class than the rest of the sycophants of the Upper East Side, a place beyond the pines.
Blair puts on her armour every morning and sets off into almost Autumn, the leaves still green but the cold wind picking up its pace. She’d hoped to find like-minded people in one of her first-year seminars, but when she looked around the hall she realized just how far from high school she was. Everyone was a complete person - or at least pretending to be just as well as her. No shadows of girls or half-made up minds that could be bent to her will. You’ll make lots of friends, Serena had said, running a hand through Blair’s hair like when they were kids. But it strikes Blair that she doesn’t really know how to.
When the discussion shifts to the individuation in the relationship between mother and daughter, Blair finds herself sinking back in her seat, not wanting to share.
When she gets back to the empty apartment, kicking off her shoes onto the ugly rug and sliding her back down the door, settling onto the floor, it’s no use dancing around it. She’s lonely.
Loneliness has always been innate to Blair, permeated through her being for as long as she can remember. But if high school taught her anything, it’s that a lonely Blair is a dangerous Blair.
Maybe she should call Chuck.
She pours a drink instead, which doesn’t help at all, in fact only has her hitting his contact, grimacing as the phone hovers just next to her ear. She hangs up on the first ring.
Besides, it’s nothing a lavender bubble bath and the vibrator she ordered online can’t fix. The wine was a bad choice, though, and she brews herself some coffee instead - which is horrible, and she blames it on the non-imported weak beans and not the fact that she doesn’t know how to use the machine in the slightest.
She settles on calling Serena instead, leaving her cell on speakerphone on the kitchen island as she eats peanut butter from the jar. She thinks, faintly, as Serena rambles on about something Nate said that really isn’t as funny as she’s making it out to be, what her mother would think if she could see her now, silver spoon stuck in her mouth and still so ungrateful.
The next day, she finds a busy cafe to study in, the din that fills the room relative enough to that of the city, easing the anxiety that’s been welling up in her chest since the first day she got here. It’s an added bonus, really, that the coffee is quite good.
“Is this seat taken?”
She looks up to see Dan Humphrey pointing at the chair across from her. It’s not that she hadn’t known he was here, so much as she had ignored it. They thankfully only had one class together - Comparative Literature - where they sat on opposite sides of the first row of seats and pretended that they didn’t know each other. Another remnant was all he was, and an inconsequential one at that.
“Yes, by my bag,” she says. “That was a personal gift from Miuccia to my mother, it cannot touch the floor.”
He picks the bag up, placing it on the table - onto a napkin, to his credit - and slumping into the seat. She narrows her eyes at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice, pulling out his phone and taking a sip from his coffee.
“Make anyone cry yet?”
“No,” she says. Unless myself counts. “But the day is young.”
“I’ll leave before you can get a leg up on me,” he says. “What’re you studying for?”
“Boring,” he says. “You get into any seminars?”
“I’m sorry, are we friends?”
“Of course not,” he says. “But you don’t make friends easily, so I’m assuming I’m the only person you know here.”
“I know people here,” she says, trying not to feel slighted. “I just don’t like them.”
“You put too much energy into hating people,” he says. “You want my advice?”
“It will be a cold day in hell when I want your advice.”
“Lose the headband. You’re trying to uphold the high school pseudo-hierarchy and it doesn’t mean anything here.”
“You sound like an anthropology textbook,” she huffs, hand going up instinctively to touch the vinyl band on her head. “You just come over here to insult me?”
“No place else to sit,” he says, stretching out in his seat. His brows furrow suddenly, and he turns his phone towards her.
The familiar pink border frames a photo of Chuck and an unnamed brunette. She stares at it for a moment too long before looking back at her book. It doesn’t matter. Blair’s prettier anyway.
“He’s not cheating on me,” Blair clarifies, when Dan’s face doesn’t let up. “We’re not together anymore.”
Dan nods, continuing to scroll through his phone like the window of him caring has closed. It amuses her slightly that he can’t help but check up on the people at home too.
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Why? More unsolicited advice?”
“I don’t think I should be doling out relationship advice.”
Blair allows herself a suppressed laugh, pressing her lips together.
“It’d be a distraction,” she says after a moment. “I have everything I want.”
The door to the cafe opens, letting in a gust of cold wind. She has a headache, maybe from the caffeine or maybe from the company.
Dan shakes his empty coffee cup a little, pushing his chair out.
“Lucky for you I finish fast,” he holds up a finger, “I walked into that one. I’ll get out of your hair now.”
And then he’s gone, and Blair’s left alone again in a room bustling with people.
She sniffs as she steps inside the coffee shop, rubbing at her nose with a gloved hand. It’s the first real cold day of the season and the sudden change in temperature is already making sweat gather under the collar of her coat. There’s no tables, and it’s too windy to sit outside, so she’ll be delegated back to the empty apartment and her single cup of non-shitty coffee.
She turns to see Humphrey beckoning her over to the back corner, pushing the chair opposite him out with his foot.
She wrinkles her nose at the seat - then at him for good measure - before taking it, pushing his papers aside to set her bag on the table.
“I like the hat,” he says, with that stupid smile like his stupid comment about headbands had actually had any effect on her, like he’s in any position to be making fun of her. She makes a face, all but sticking her tongue out, and keeps her eyes peeled for any other table that might open up.
He goes back to his book, of which she tips the cover up and tilts her head to read. Kerouac. Predictable.
“Women's Narratives in French Literature,” she says, catching his attention again. “The seminar I just got back from.”
“Sounds interesting,” he says. “What’d you discuss?”
“Gill Rye,” she says. “The changing perspectives of the family dynamic.”
He nods, and she’s a little surprised that it doesn’t look like she’s completely lost him yet.
“Which, for a girl with one mom and three dads, ends up hitting a bit close to home.”
Dan laughs, and there’s something in it that makes him sound surprised, too.
“Can you look this over for me?” he says, after fifteen minutes of silence which Blair was rather enjoying.
She raises her brows. “Me?”
He shrugs. “What would the academic landscape be if not for Blair Waldorf demeaning my every move?”
She presses her lips together to suppress a smile, taking the paper from him and pulling a red pen from her purse. He rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling a little, too.
“I could look over yours if you want,” he says.
“I don’t need your help,” she snaps. “I won an essay competition at Constance, you know.”
“I do know,” he says. “I was there to see you get the award.”
“What?” she says, making a red line across his paper in surprise. “Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Seemed like the nice thing to do.”
“I had no idea,” she says. “I thought no one came.”
Dan gives her an almost stilted half-smile, and Blair swallows back down whatever sincere emotion was trying to crawl its way up her throat.
When she hands him back his paper, she catches him laugh lightly at the note on the bottom of the page. Not awful.
You’re prettier anyway, Serena says, her voice balanced between Blair’s ear and shoulder as she flips through a magazine. She sounds so far away, the bustle of the city like static through her end. The sun is setting on another day, the light filtering through the curtains and casting streaks on the walls like the looming shadows of trees. A place beyond the pines.
Blair remembers faintly how it felt when her mother didn’t come to see her get her award, how proud she’d been when she’d called her father to tell him that she’d won only to be met with a That’s nice, sweetheart, but Daddy has to go. But when she sets down her cellphone, the line silent, the apartment still empty, she feels a little less alone.
The box spring mattress is broken, jutting into a spot just below Dan’s right shoulder blade, night after night, the spot tender to the touch. The box spring is broken and the room is the very last at the end of the hall and his roommate might be the most insufferable person he’s ever met, but as he looks out the only-slightly-bigger-than-an-airplane’s window overlooking the grassy lawn of a courtyard, he’s only a little charred at the memory of the last time he felt this happy.
Jenny’s voice over the phone makes for good background noise while he works. He’s never been so far away from her for so long, the brief stint at a sleep away camp the summer between fourth and fifth grade the last time they had the space of a city between where they lay their heads. He still remembers the scrawny outline of her, wet eyes glaring up at him. It’s not fair that he gets to go and I don’t. He’d tousled her hair and told her to stop whining, but that night, the first since she was born that she wasn’t a wall away, as the static of cicadas welled up around him, he’d squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t sleep a wink.
He doesn’t really listen - Jenny can only provide him with high school hearsay that he’d rather leave behind, but her voice, her laugh, are a welcome addition to an otherwise desolate room. But when Ryan - said insufferable roommate - is present, he keeps his headphones in, music turned all the way up. He’d prefer the scratch of Elliot Smith and Lou Reed on vinyl, but the player and the treasured collection of records to go with it were too bulky - too precious to leave the borough they were brought up in.
He likes Omar from 301, right of the elevator, and Aurora from ENGL-462 and, surprisingly enough, Blair, the five and a half feet of pomp and guile that has started to plant herself in the chair across from him habitually. Dan finds himself unable to complain.
“This is nice,” she says, finger drawing over the leather cover of his new notebook, unwinding the string around it. “Financial aid cover this?”
“I have a job,” he says, snatching the book back before she can flip it open, ignoring her glossy red scowl. “Do you know what that is?”
“Don’t want me to see the Mrs. Serena Humphrey doodles?” she picks at her cranberry muffin a few more times before sliding it over to him. “What job?”
“Bookstore off campus,” he says, breaking off a chunk and stuffing it into his mouth. “You’d like it, actually. Big French literature section.”
His eyes flit up in time to see her scowl soften into a bit of a smile. When she catches him looking, her nose wrinkles.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she says. “You would have benefited from etiquette lessons.”
“Like the ones Nate’s mom made him take?” he wipes crumbs from the corner of his mouth on his sleeve, just to make her cringe. “Or was that you?”
“Make fun all you want, Humphrey. Good men aren’t born, they’re bred.”
“By perpetuating classist ideals of etiquette?”
“Don’t knock it until you try it,” she says. “I could make you just as much of an eligible suitor as Nate.”
“I don’t need your help,” he says, the same childish tone she’d used on him. “I’ve gone on a few dates already, you know.”
He rolls his eyes without looking up. “Two. And don’t sound so surprised. Just because you don’t find me attractive doesn’t mean other people don’t.”
She looks away, fidgeting with the sleeve on her coffee cup.
“I suppose I thought the women of the Ivy league would be above your ranks,” she says. The sleeve is ripped in half, crescents in the cardboard from her blunt nails. “I haven’t even been approached.”
He shrugs. “You’re unapproachable.”
“You approached me,” she says. “Came and sat down uninvited.”
“I knew you,” he says. “I know it’s all just for show.”
“What’s for show?”
“The stuck up priss thing.”
“You think I’m stuck up?”
“You’re Blair Waldorf. You’re what comes up in the dictionary under stuck up.”
“When did you get mean? That’s my thing. It’s not a good look on you.”
“Maybe if you dropped it someone would’ve asked you out.”
She drops the crumbled sleeve on the table, picking up her bag from its place upon the napkins.
“What - where are you going?”
“To study alone, since I’m such a nuisance to be around.”
He reaches out, his hand finding the leather strap of her bag, tugging it a little, tethering her back.
“Don’t go,” he says. “I was just joking.”
She only blinks at him, tense shoulders not letting up. He fumbles with the sleeve himself, tearing it up into little pieces.
“I would ask you out,” he says. “If I was someone else. You know, legacy student with a god complex or whatever your type is.”
“So your dates were with a dumb blonde and your English teacher?” she says. He gives her a pointed look, but it’s no match for the one he receives in return, so he concedes, raising his hands in surrender. She sweeps the bits of cardboard to his side, gathering around the small plate of their shared half-eaten muffin. “You’ve made a mess.”
“I’ve got it,” he says, nudging her aside and handing the cashier a bill, adding his order to hers. “Consider it an apology for being an ass yesterday.”
Blair’s mouth opens, like she’s going to say something, before her eyes drop to his hands.
“This is yours?” she says, reaching out and running a finger over the stitching on the front of his wallet. “Cash apologies, summer in the Hamptons, Armani wallet - who are you and what have you done with Dan Humphrey?”
He taps her on the nose with the wallet, and maybe it’s just the heat welling up in the cafe, fogging the windows, but he thinks she might go pink.
“Didn’t you hear? The Humphrey’s have moved to the dark side.”
She hums, taking the first sip of her cappuccino and deeming it satisfactory.
“Lily and her land of misfit toys.” The cafe is uncharacteristically quiet, empty tables lining the windows. She settles into a chair, and he hesitates for a moment, before lowering himself across from her. “A Brooklyn wedding is certainly a new one.”
He raises a brow. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”
She shakes her head a bit, and she could be smiling, but her cup’s in the way.
“Someone who’s going to stick around,” she says. “That’s certainly a new one too.”
She sounds sad, he suspects, and he’s not quite sure what to make of that. She hasn’t pulled her books out yet, but neither has he, and he’s not sure what to make of that either.
“Good things grow in Brooklyn,” he says, raising his cup to her. Her head tips back a bit. She has a nice laugh.
The bell above her head dings as she steps into the warm glow of the bookstore. It’s not small but it is cramped, narrow over-stuffed shelves like cornrows drawing twisted paths. Dan’s sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, forearm flexing as he points an old man in the direction of whatever he's looking for. He tilts his head when he sees her, a small curious smile. Blair doesn’t smile back.
She wanders around, reaching the peak of the aforementioned French literature section. She runs her fingers over new and worn spines alike, bending a little to get a better look even though she’s not really looking. She’s waiting.
She rounds the corner to a tall shelf titled Staff Picks, and her eyes land on the familiar name first, a small paperback of Letters to a Young Poet sitting over a card that reads Dan. She picks it up, the cover a glossy purple, brand new.
“Have you read it?”
She doesn’t turn around, not wanting to reveal the smile that’s crept up on her face. Blair likes being chased, but she likes being caught even more.
“I have,” she says. He leans a hand on the shelf next to her, hovering over her shoulder.
“I gave it to Serena. She never read it.”
Blair laughs, but Dan doesn’t. She realizes that it hadn’t been a dig at Serena’s intelligence. He’d really wanted her to read it.
“I love it,” Blair says, thumbing through the pages and stopping on one.
This is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment... What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person -
Blair shuts the book, swallowing down the lump forming in her throat, and continues her stroll through the winding maze of shelves wordlessly, if not a little shaken.
She stops abruptly in the children’s section, turning to him, and finds that he’s much closer than she’d expected. The low orange light illuminates through his curls, casts a shadow over one side of his face.
“You hate me,” she says, but it comes out less joking and more sincere than she would have liked. “Are you so desperate for friends you’ve abandoned your virtues?”
He offers her a small, noncommittal shrug. “I miss Vanessa. You remind me of her.”
Blair is so offended she doesn’t know what to say, so she doesn’t say anything, just gapes up at him.
“Smart, snarky,” he continues, unfazed by her wide-eyed horror. “Always calling me on my shit.”
“You like a girl who puts you in your place,” she says. He looks a little surprised, confused, maybe. It hadn’t come out like she’d meant it to, either.
“I like a friend who keeps me on my toes,” he says. There’s an inflection on friend that she detests - prideful that she admitted it first. He leans a shoulder against the shelves, hands in his pockets, and she mimics him, relaxing back herself.
“Still doesn’t explain why you sat down at my table uninvited,” she says, curiosity winning over composure.
“Jenny told me what you did,” he says. “Choosing her to be queen. And as much as I find the entire notion utterly ridiculous - it made her really happy. And her being happy, that’s - that’s my favourite feeling. When I saw you there - you looked, I don’t know - lonely, I guess. I thought you could use a familiar face, even if it was me. I know I did.”
She raises her eyebrows skeptically, chewing on her tongue to force down those nasty sincere emotions emerging to the forefront again. “You made fun of my headband.”
He ducks his head as he laughs. It’s annoyingly endearing.
“My way of showing I cared.”
A bell rings from someplace that sounds so far away, but it makes Dan stand up straight, his hand coming up to tap the cover of the letters she’s still holding.
“If you want that, it’s on me,” he says. “Friends and family discount.”
Behind tinted black windows, as the car Lily sent for her winds through a stretch of road lined with trees with deadened leaves, Blair pulls the book out of her bag and flips it open.
...everything that happens is again and again a beginning.
Blair finds herself attached to a back wall of the Brooklyn loft, the twinkling lights and the tall candles and the overwhelming air of romance making her feel nauseous. She watches Rufus spin Jenny around and around, like the little ballerina in Blair’s old porcelain music box given to her by her own father. It’s stupid, really, it might be one of the pettiest thoughts she’s ever had, but her faded grudge against Jenny Humphrey gains a new bit of steam - for growing up in a house full of people who loved her more than anything else.
Chuck came and went, the kiss he’d pressed to her cheek before leaving still lingering. The champagne’s been good at least, and Blair’s downed enough flutes to make her feel light and airy, like she’s floating.
She’s not sure when Dan appeared next to her, his suit jacket discarded and his sleeves rolled to the elbows, collar tugged away from his throat. It’s admittedly not an awful look.
“You from around here?”
She rolls her eyes, but the champagne’s working over time, and she can’t help the smile that appears just as sudden as he did.
“Feels a bit more like a funeral than a wedding, don’t you think?”
“The second ones always do,” she says.
“This is fifth for Lily,” he says. “So what does that make it?”
“Drifting through limbo?” she offers.
He laughs. “That’s exactly what it feels like.”
Blair looks out to find Serena with her arms slung around Nate’s shoulders. Her head tips back in laughter, like it has a hundred times before with him, some inside joke Blair was never privy to. She always felt like they were laughing at her, when they were kids, like maybe she was the joke. She knows better now.
“They look like they’re having fun,” Dan says.
“Yeah,” she says quietly. “They do.”
Dan holds out his hand next to her. “You wanna have some fun, Waldorf?”
“Sure,” she says. “Show me your moves, Humphrey.”
His hand is warm on her hip, and it occurs to her that she’s never been this close to him, except maybe at the bookstore a few days ago, bracketed in by the shelves, or in that carriage on stage. He smells nice, not the Nordstrom Rack cologne doused on his shirt but his hair, the crook of his neck. His shampoo or his aftershave or maybe just him - warm spice and something sweet like honey. She looks over to find Serena with her shoes off, hooked on her fingers behind Nate’s back, their foreheads pressed together. Blair thinks she knows what Dan meant. Seeing Serena happy might be her favourite feeling, too.
“What time’s your train tomorrow?”
“First one out,” he says.
“Me too,” she says.
His brow quirks up. “Deigning to ride with the common folk?”
She rolls her eyes again, looking past him, to where Lily and Rufus’ dance has slowed to an almost stop, the two of them clinging to each other, like if they let go they’ll lose another twenty years. Rufus says something, his nose nudged to her cheek, and Lily laughs, head tipped back in a mirror image. Blair blinks away, feeling suddenly like she’s intruding. When she looks back at Dan, he’s looking at her, too.