“How did you possibly get here before me?”
She finds Dan at the terminal with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, wearing an obnoxious Yale sweater like the one Blair used to sleep in.
(Still sleeps in, sometimes, pulling it over her silk slip and picking at the fraying stitches of the sleeves, the pressure of all the expectations stacked against her like a weighted blanket. It still smells like her father, if she pretends hard enough.)
“I like being early.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” she says. ”Is that why you had perfect attendance in high school?”
“How’d you know that?”
She rolls her eyes. “Wild guess.”
She hands her bags over to him, ignoring his mumbles of We were gone for a day what the fuck is in here as he stuffs them into the overhead compartment, and pushes past him to the window seat.
“I thought you’d like the aisle,” she says. “Maybe a pretty blonde will fall into your lap and you can take her into the bathroom.”
He pauses, looking at her then away again just as fast, his cheeks flushed deep.
“What, you didn’t think she’d tell me?” Blair says. “I know more about you than I’d like to, Humphrey.”
He shakes his head a little, red from the tip of his nose to tops of his ears. This, too, is admittedly not a bad look.
“Train bathrooms, costume closets…” she continues, watching his jaw clench. “You’re shameless.”
“And you’re irritating,” he says. He almost sounds like he means it.
He reaches into his bag, pulling out a novelty flask printed with the Cheers logo and drops into the seat next to her.
“It’s nine in the morning,” she says.
“You’re saying you’ve never gotten drunk on the Metro-North before?”
She narrows her eyes at him. “Should I be worried?”
He laughs, offering it to her, and she continues to eye him warily even as she twists the top off, taking a small sip, her nose wrinkling. “It’s warm.”
“Two hours with you?” he says, taking a generous swig. “I’ll need something to take the edge off.”
As the train sets into motion, Blair debates pulling out the box of Ladurée macarons she’d picked up before the wedding yesterday. She decides against it, deeming that they’ll taste better with a cup of coffee in the comfort of her bed instead of the stuffy train car.
“I got here early because I left family breakfast,” Dan says suddenly. “It’s going to take a little more than waffles and coffee to get me used to the idea that I -“ he waves in the direction of the bathroom sign. “With someone who’s now my -“ another vague hand gesture, which she takes to mean stepsister .
He rolls his head to look at her, sleepy eyed and unshaven, his lips a little wet from the warm whiskey.
“Would it be awful to say I felt like shit last night?”
“Excuse you,” she says, stealing the flask back, the heat spreading in her chest decidedly pleasant. “Dancing with me is a high point in your life.”
“Other than that,” he laughs. “It’s just - I love Lily, I do, but she’s not - she’s not my mom. I looked around the room, and everyone was there, in our home, except for her. It just made me really miss her. And then I felt stupid for missing her, because it’s not like she’s gone - she’s just - she’s moved on, you know? But we’re her kids. How do you move on from your kids? I could never do that.”
Blair takes in a deep breath, remembering the first time he’d offered this piece of his life to her. It had startled her the same way it does now. Honesty wasn’t something that came easy to Blair. She didn’t understand him, his willingness to share.
“You sure this is your first?” she says, knocking the flask lightly against his bicep. She gets a small smile in return. “It’s not awful.”
The train rolls under a parting of the clouds, stark morning sun cutting across their seats, the expanse of concrete giving away to walls of trees. She thinks he looks a bit like a marble bust in this light, sharp features and soft curls.
“I couldn’t understand why he had to leave to be happy,” she says quietly. “It was like he didn’t love me as much as I loved him. And it made me so angry.”
She turns to look out the window instead of at him, the blur of trees making her dizzy. From the corner of her eye she can see him watching her carefully.
“And then it happened again... with Nate. With Chuck. I think it was less about loving them and more about wanting them to love me,” she says. She’d never said any of it out loud, to anyone, not even Serena. “Maybe that doesn’t make sense.”
“It does,” Dan says. He taps a finger on the armrest between them, chewing on his lip. “Nate was at breakfast.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Of course not,” he says. “You know, it was a year ago we became friends. On this same trip.”
“Nate Archibald and Blair Waldorf. The Metro-North has been good to you,” she reaches over to take the flask again. “Chuck was so mad he chose you over him.”
“Did he tell you why?”
She shakes her head, tipping back the last few drops. They’re finished and they still have an hour and a half to go.
“He had some upperclassmen tie me up in the courtyard and steal my clothes,” he says. “Some real Skull and Bones shit.”
Her mouth falls open, and his eyes drop to it, then back up.
“That I would pay to see.”
“I’m not Nate,” he says. “I don’t charge.”
Her hand comes up to cover her mouth, a burst of laughter she hadn’t wanted to give him escaping her before she can catch it.
“I may have instigated a physical altercation,” she says, trying to pull herself together, her hand still at her mouth. “With Serena. There may have been hair pulling.”
“Now that I would pay to see.”
She tips back in her seat, giggling like a schoolgirl, her face hot. She’s going to die of embarrassment when she’s sober.
“Did you just get me drunk to make me amiable?”
“I brought one last year on the train to Hudson,” he says. “When things were even crazier than they are now.” She turns to look at him, his mouth flushed, hanging open like he’s going to say something else. She wonders what he’d look like after being kissed. She wonders if he’s that pink everywhere. “And besides, you don't need alcohol to make me like you.”
She watches him swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “Are you really?” he says. “Drunk?”
“Lightweight,” he snorts, reaching over and taking the flask from her, his big hand covering hers for a moment too long before withdrawing.
“Things are good now,” she says, her words thick and gummy in her mouth. It doesn’t feel like a lie.
He shrugs. “They could be better.”
“Yes,” she says, watching the way his eyes crease as he smiles. She hadn’t realized she was nodding. “They could. But shouldn’t we be grateful?”
“That’s a conversation for the train ride at Thanksgiving,” he says. He sounds considerably more sober than she feels.
“We won’t be friends then,” she says.
“No,” she says, shaking her head, side to side, causing her vision to blur slightly. “I’ll get sick of you by then.”
“You wanna bet on it?” he says, the corners of his mouth twitching like he’s trying very hard to match how serious she is.
“You shouldn’t be placing bets with me,” she says. “I have more money than you.”
“I’m very confident.”
“To a fault,” she says. “You’re confident you won’t get sick of me?”
He leans in a little, startling her still, and taps the flask on her nose. “To a fault.”
She drifts into an uneasy almost-sleep, awake enough to keep herself from leaning on his shoulder, even though it’s right there, and she really wouldn’t mind it, remembering how much she liked the way he smelled last night, how warm he’d been, how soft his sweater would be, new and not worn out like hers.
When the train comes to a halt, she sits upright, ready to get out and onto the platform. She really needs a fucking coffee.
“Holy shit,” Dan says, dropping her bags into a heap on the floor of the apartment. She’s within walking distance of the station. He’d offered to carry them. It’s not like she was going to say no . “This place is fucking huge.”
“It’s adequate,” she says, setting her purse on the kitchen counter, already dreaming of the macarons and the bubble bath and the vibrator.
“Beats communal showers,” he says. “Where do you want these?”
“One more thing,” she says, once her bags have been dragged into her room and Dan’s heading to the door. “Do you know how to work this?” She gestures to the espresso machine. He laughs, nodding.
He finds her sitting in the worn armchair at the back of the shop, one leg crossed over the other, flipping through something with a hard gold cover. She seems so small, sinking into the chair, the back of it framing her like a throne.
“How’d you get here before me?” he says, kicking at her heel a little. She looks up for only a moment before going back to her book.
“Like I know your schedule,” she says. For a moment, he thinks he’s misread the situation, foolishly thinking - hoping, maybe - that she’d been waiting for him.
But then she snaps the book shut, hopping to her feet.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, the only other person in the store an old gentleman who he knows doesn’t want to be bothered, so he’s free to trail behind her as she peeks around the shelves, although it’s not lost on him that she’s only been here one time and he’s still following her around like she owns the place. She’s compiling a stack of books in her arms, which she abruptly shoves into his, already halfway into a rant about Serena.
“I told her to take things slow with Nate this time -“
“I told him the same thing -“
“But do they listen? Of course not! Instead they have sex on my mother’s floor .”
“Oh, I didn’t need to know that -“
“And do not get me started on Dasha. You’re telling me if I get to know her we might become friends, but she wears tracksuits , I cannot be friends with someone who wears tracksuits outside a gym.”
“Remember how you got mad at me for the stuck up priss thing?”
“I don’t even see her enough to try to be friends with her,” Blair continues, ignoring him. “She must be staying somewhere else, because she hardly comes home at all. I think she’s in a secret relationship with someone she’s not supposed to be with. Maybe it interferes with diplomatic affairs.”
“Have you thought about majoring in Creative Writing?”
“I would give you a run for your money,” she says. “And you’re already underprivileged. You deserve a fair shot.”
She points at a book she wants, too high for her to reach, and he takes it off the shelf, adding it to her pile.
“She’s probably just busy,” he says. “The simplest explanation is usually the right one.”
“Maybe I should follow her next time she goes out.”
“You definitely shouldn’t do that.”
“Or at least watch out the window which way she goes, if she walks or has a car service.”
“Still sounds like a useless invasion of privacy.”
She arches an eyebrow, handing him another book. “I’m not much for rear window ethics.”
Dan pauses for a moment, smiling. “You do have a great talent in creating difficult situations.”
She hums, continuing on her way. Dan hears the bell ring in the front of the store, but it sounds more like a siren. Uh oh.
He’s already knocking on her door by the time he realizes he probably should have called first.
The door opens only a crack at first, golden light spilling out, then her face, confused, appears amongst it. There’s music playing from inside, synth cutting through the otherwise silent hallway. She tightens her robe around her, something silky underneath it and - God , he really should’ve called first.
“Humphrey,” she says, sounding more curious than irritated. “Lost?”
“You, uh, left this -“ he holds up Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own , “at the store.”
She just stares at him for a second, vaguely amused, then takes a step back, letting him in.
“Great service,” she says. Her hair’s tied up, out of her face, and she tucks a stray strand behind her ear before crossing her arms. She looks like she did on the train, tinged pink and hesitant to let her guard down. “I’ll be sure to leave a review.”
He laughs, distracted, holding the book out to her. She takes it, and he points into the air at nothing. “Is this Cyndi Lauper?”
Her brows raise - surprise or skepticism, he can’t tell - then she nods slowly.
“We saw Kinky Boots for Jenny’s thirteenth,” he says, like that’s relevant, like she cares . He clears his throat. “Have you - uh - tried that pizza place around the corner?”
She shakes her head, still looking at him like he’s an idiot. Which, coincidentally, is how he feels.
“Right,” he says. He probably shouldn’t have come at all. “Cause I just got off and I haven’t eaten anything, so I was gonna -“
“They deliver,” she says. “If you want to stay.”
Katherine Hepburn, in full length fur, lights a grainy, black-and-white flame, trying to make coffee on the stove. Blair laughs, her hands on her face like she’s watching a horror movie, and Dan can’t seem to concentrate, watching her shake her head instead of Hepburn shake off her coat. Uh oh , indeed.
Curled up in her father’s old sweater, Blair dreams that she’s Grace Kelly, a line of pearls at her neck as she leans down in the almost dark, a single glow of light illuminating her face. When she pulls away from the kiss, it’s Humphrey that says, Who are you?