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fire and ice

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Blair never saw the appeal of leaving and never coming back. She didn’t think she’d be able to not sit still. Sitting still is what she does best; she got on stage at sixteen and has been there ever since. No sudden movements can save your life. 

Blair is an optical illusion, look too closely and you’ll see right through it. 

(Look too closely and you’ll see: Henry loves Chuck more than he loves Blair and maybe at some point it would have mattered but she has decided that it doesn’t anymore.

Waldorf Designs is a mausoleum, but it’s the only thing that reminds her that she hadn’t materialized as wife, wasn’t plucked from Chuck’s rib and made woman. The work is dull and unchallenging and it takes her away from home long enough for Chuck to fuck the au pair, and maybe at some point it would have mattered but she has decided that it doesn’t anymore.

She doesn’t have anyone to talk to these days. Not that she would have anything to say if she did. Chuck has done unspeakable things to her but they have done unspeakable things to each other. Blair has decided to let one outweigh the other. 

She is a dress up doll with pins in every pulse point. No sudden movements and she doesn’t bleed out.)

Blair fills her life with pretty things, breakable things, replaceable things, so that she doesn’t have to look too closely. 

You know how it is, growing up alone, Chuck says. Don’t you think he should have someone? 

He has us, Blair says, and because she is good at pretending, it comforts her. 

You know that’s not what I mean, he says. Don’t you think we should have another one?

 

***

 

They were standing at the coat check of a black tie party with no one else around and she thought they were pretending to be strangers until he said: Congratulations.

She said nothing. They were going to tell them together but Chuck’s meeting had run late and then Chuck had run late and she had already passed on too many glasses of champagne and so she just said it. 

I bet he’ll be a great father.

Everyone had heard them fight and everyone had seen him leave without her and everyone was pretending that nothing had happened. Everyone except for Dan. She left him alone, the least he could do was return the favour.

It was never going to be you, she said, because if he insisted on cutting open old wounds then the least she could do was douse them in salt. It was always him. We got sidetracked and made a mess of things. I had to clean it up. 

She got her coat and only her coat because Chuck never checked his in. She was halfway down the empty hall when he said, I was wrong about you.

You really are —

 

***

 

Mostly, Blair doesn’t want to be Anne, more of a business partner than a mother. 

Chuck may have been different if he hadn’t grown up a son without a mother, and because Blair is good at pretending, it comforts her. It bodes well for Henry, doesn’t it, that she’s here to stop it? That she’s here to change the ending?

But Blair never really got to grow up herself, has been the mother for as long as she can remember. So, Chuck was a son without a mother. So, Blair saw her chance to fit somewhere she was really wanted.

Maybe Henry got here too late. Maybe Blair’s all used up.



Blair does not miss Dan because to miss Dan would be to admit that there was something to miss in the first place.



Chuck doesn’t hit her with his hands because he hates to get his hands dirty. He throws things, anything breakable, anything replaceable. He backs her into a corner until she has nowhere out but through and she has to hit him first. He spits bitch and cunt in place of her name. They wouldn’t need an au pair if Blair didn’t go away for work, he says. They wouldn’t hurt each other if she didn’t insist on picking a fight, he says.

He loves her, he says. He doesn’t let her look too closely, and that is her reward.

At her first appointment for preventative botox the esthetician asks her how she managed a hairline fracture to her cheekbone. She says she tripped down the stairs. It’s not really a lie, if she doesn’t look too closely. 

Blair is an optical illusion. Chuck is a sleight of hand. Til death do they part. 

Henry doesn’t need to love her, just as long as he doesn’t hate her, so she packs their bags and checks into a hotel for the night. It’s not until four in the morning when she’s staring at the ceiling that she realizes he owns it.

She goes back and Chuck hits her but not with his hands and she throws the ring in the garbage and he says he loves her and he buys her another one. There is no other end to this story. Blair doesn’t know why she bothers trying to make a new one.

She thinks that as long as he doesn’t use his hands they’ll be okay. She trusts him that much, because there would be no going back after that. And she has to go back. There is no other end to this story. 

There’s something to be said here for resilience, but Blair doesn’t have anyone to talk to these days.

There are times when Blair wants to be Elizabeth. Simply not around. 

 

***

 

On the first day of Dan and Serena’s last week in New York, Blair throws up without the help of her fingers for the first time in almost five years. She doesn’t take a test but she doesn’t need to because she could feel it, some part of him embedded inside her again. 

She stands in the room full of boxes and has the urge to ask him if they could rewind and start over, them and this almost-something she’s carrying. Instead, she says, I just came to say goodbye.

They are playing house, the three of them (four, Blair tries not to think). Everything is a game and this is just the long haul. They are playing dress up, the two of them, reflected in the mirror of her vanity. From bed, Chuck says, “How many times did you go there this week?”

Blair closes her eyes. “I went to say goodbye.”

“Three times. You went there three times.”

It’s not Blair’s fault that she didn’t love Dan the way he needed her to, back then. Which is to say, in a way that she could sit still in.

If he stayed she would always have a way out and if he left she wouldn’t and it had taken her three tries before she was able to get off the elevator. She knew they couldn’t rewind but she thought they could start over and she decided that one outweighed the other. 

There was no going back from Chuck. There was only going back to. She wanted, then, to change the ending. Now, well —

Now she knows better.

They are playing house, the three of them. (Haunted, Blair tries not to think.)

 

***

 

Blair met Chuck when he was the same age as Henry is. They’re a split screen of each other. Blair keeps baby photos of them on her desk at work, one’s my son and one’s my husband. She’s gotten good at sounding proud. You know what they say about practice.

He was such a good kid, that son without a mother. He had a straight-backed politeness to him that Blair would come to learn was fear.

Can you guess which one is which?

Sometimes, Blair thinks it would be better if Henry didn’t grow up at all.

 

I don’t think I was made to be a mother, Serena would say, as they flipped through a scrapbook of a future that would live only on paper. Blair didn’t believe that, because Serena was made for anything and everything, the world an oyster that fit in the palm of her hand. It was Blair that wasn’t made for anything. It was Blair that needed to grind down and pry open things so they would fit her. 

By the time Blair came to the conclusion that she did not want to do this, to be this, it was too late. 



Blair does not miss Serena because to miss Serena would be to miss something that was never going to stay in the first place.



She tells her therapist because she’s the only person she can think to tell. Or, not the only person, but the only one close enough. 

She tells her therapist and her therapist tells her of a spa retreat in the Catskills and by the end of the appointment she has a room booked for the weekend and by the end of the weekend Blair is not carrying an almost-something. 



She’s being told obvious things, things like: It’s not your fault and It’s not okay and That’s not love.

Well, Blair says. Then what is?

 

***

 

He’s sitting in the dark when she gets home. They’ve been running on different time zones, the two of them, some part of him still stuck on the other side of the equator. 

They’ve never truly gotten away with anything, the whole lot of them. It always catches up to them, swallows them whole, leaves them with no other ending. Frankly, she’s surprised it took even this long.

I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t tell me, he says. She can smell his breath from across the room. But it’s so obvious. 

Three times. You went to say goodbye. 

Chuck leaves and is gone for long enough she thinks he won’t be coming back. But he does, of course he does, and when he does it’s in the middle of the night and he has her backed into a corner, and his hands are around her throat and he’s calling her a whore in a tone just above a whisper. Blair’s first thought is, it’s considerate of him to not raise his voice while Henry is sleeping. 

For the first time, there is no going back. 

 

***

 

When it’s over, Blair doesn’t feel like a risen phoenix, she just feels like ash.

The story is caught and killed and caught and killed until the divorce is finalized and the custody battle is settled and then it spreads across the East Coast like daybreak. She’s watching it, her own face on the television screen and the headline scrolling under it, when she picks up the phone and dials the number with the unfamiliar area code.

Serena asks why and when and what’s going to happen to Henry and Blair tells her a whole lot of nothing. Serena says, I thought if anyone could make it work it’s you two. 

Blair says, Goodnight, Serena.

It’s unfair that Henry has her for a mother and it’s unfair that Blair is a mother at all and it’s unfair that neither of them had much of a choice in the matter. She took him mostly to prove that she could, but by the time Blair comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t want to do this, to be this, it’s too late. She has already made herself the only person he has. 

He keeps her shut out with a locked door and so she removes the lock. He doesn’t tell her how he’s feeling and so she sends him to see a specialist. Mostly, Blair doesn’t want to be Lily, coming home to find her son bleeding out in the bathtub. When she weighs her options, it seems the better of the two to be Anne, to never understand him and to only sometimes try. 

Serena calls in the middle of the night from somewhere so loud Blair can hardly hear her and asks what this means for them. Blair says, You and me?

Serena says, You and him.

The next afternoon, Serena calls back and says, Dan and I were going to have a baby. She sounds sixteen and small when she says it. We’re not anymore. 

What happened?

It didn’t want me, Serena says. Just like he doesn’t want me. 

So, Serena lost one she only half-wanted and Blair got rid of one she only half-didn’t want. It’s fitting, she thinks, that kind of balancing of the scales. It’s the only way for the two of them to exist simultaneously. 


***

“I thought I told you to only call me when I’m at work if someone’s dying?”

”Did Serena call you?” Nate says.

”No. Why?”

”There was an accident. It doesn’t look so good, Blair.”

 

Blair asks her assistant to book the next flight to John Wayne Airport before she’s even finished dialling. She doesn’t bother to get cancellation insurance.

When the sun comes up, there’s a part of her that wishes she got on the plane anyway.

 

***

They’re strangers living under the same roof, her and Henry. There’s a space between them the size of Chuck that Blair doesn’t know how to navigate. What she does know is that most people don’t wake up one day and decide that they don’t want to be alive anymore; that it builds out of the optical illusion, out of the pins in the pulse points —

Out of being at the base of the stairs when you’re supposed to be sleeping, the shattered glass of a decanter falling flat at your feet. 

She doesn’t care if he hates her, just as long as he’s alive to do it.

When Chuck abandoned fear he gained aggression, but Henry is still hiding behind closed doors, still sleeping with a light on, so there is time yet to fix that. 

He doesn’t love her. She doesn’t blame him.

 

Serena calls in the middle of the day from somewhere she can hear the rushing of water, and she says, Congratulations.