Surprisingly enough, it was Mike who initiated communication with all of them.
It's not like New Directions had had a falling out or anything. It's just hard to keep in touch with eleven other people when your lives are suddenly filled with college courses, new friends, underage drinking, one-night stands, and homework assignments. You only keep in touch with the select few that actually mattered to you in the first place.
So Kurt's surprised – and pleasantly so – when he logs onto facebook and sees that he has a message from Mike. He clicks it eagerly, eyes scanning the page almost hungrily. He's always eager for news when one of his old friends sends him something.
I sent this message to you all specifically because I know that you live (or lived, and apologies for the waste of time if this is the case) in the New York City area. I've recently moved into a new neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I was hoping to have a gathering to celebrate. Sort of a new friends meet old friends mixer, I guess.
I'm sure most of you are busy, but I'm more than willing to be flexible with dates and times, so if you could let me know which days are best for you, that would be great.
Kurt looked up at the header, noticing that, among the unfamiliar names, he spotted Rachel, Tina, and Matt. He took a moment to remember how the three of them had ended up in the city.
Rachel got into Juliard, Tina was at Maymount Manhattan, and Matt… well, he and Mike were best friends, so it made sense to include him regardless.
He scanned the rest of the names, trying to pick out someone familiar, and the name "Jesse St. James" popped out at him. Kurt smiled; he knew that Jesse had transferred from UCLA to another school in NYC, he just didn't remember where. Any animosity between Jesse and New Directions had been water under the bridge for quite some time. Kurt had even run into Jesse at a party once, though Jesse had been too intoxicated to remember him. But Kurt had hoisted Jesse up and dragged him into the nearest bathroom, splashing water on the man's face until he could think (and walk) straight.
He pulled his planner closer to him, flipping through it and marking off a few dates that were free. He typed a quick reply to Mike, saying how glad he was to hear from him and that he hoped their free days would coincide. He did miss all his old friends, and it would be nice to see a few of them again.
After sending the reply, Kurt shut off his computer and got to business. It was hard finding work in New York City, especially since he had studied both fashion design and theatre in college. It's not like he had people pounding down his door asking him for input or to sing at a workshop. He'd managed to find an internship quickly after graduation that still afforded him time to seek out auditions and hold a part time job at a consignment shop. It's wasn't the glamorous New York lifestyle his high school self had imagined, but it was comfortable and he was happy.
He tucked his resume and his headshot in his bag before heading off to work; he had an audition later in the evening. He got on his usual train, heading from the upper heights of Long Island into the more tourist-y parts of the city. Kurt hated tourists, but they were where the money was.
He found himself flashing back to his old glee club days during his train ride, remembering how Mike had always been so quiet and, to a point, reserved. The only time he had really captured their attention – and not because of his dance moves – was when he and Tina had dated for a short time. That had caused quite the fuss over friendships and loyalties and Kurt remembered how he had grudgingly sided with Tina when he would have much rather been popping wheelies in the spare wheelchairs with Artie and Finn.
"So who is he?" Kurt's co-worker, Marigold ("The name is Mari! Don't call me that hideous excuse for a name ever again, dick-head!") asked him, drumming her fingernails on the glass counter and looking at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Excuse me?" Kurt straightened up, unaware that he had drifted into thought – again – while on his shift at the register.
"Honey, there are only two things in the world that put that look on your face," Mari pointed at him, smirking. "You've either had one hell of a good night in the sack and you're thinking about the chiseled god waiting for you in your bed, or you've started flirting with the little sixteen-year-old at Starbucks again."
Kurt's face purpled.
"I told you, he looked older!"
Mari held up her hands, still smirking.
"And don't call him little," Kurt put his hands on his hips. "For your information, he's six-foot-two."
"I'm not even going to ask how you know that," Mari gave a tittering laugh. She bent closer to him, resting her elbows on the counter and her chin across her folded fingers. "But anyhow, you must give me the nasty details. Did this one leave a hickey behind your ear?" She craned to get a look. Kurt swatted her away.
"No, Mari, I wasn't doing anything of the sort last night," Kurt's jaw stiffened. "I was thinking back to my days in high school, if you must know."
"And about the time you sucked off the quarterback in that shoe-fella's office?"
Kurt's face turned even redder, and he spluttered for a few moments before he could wrap his tongue around the words.
"Remind me to never tell you about any of my sex dreams again."
"Oh, was that one a dream?" Mari closed one eye and tilted her head, trying to remember. "Kurt, honey, you know better than anyone that I don't remember those kind of details."
Kurt glared at her. Mari glared back.
"So are you going to tell me his name or not?" Mari asked, finally, leaning back to give Kurt his personal bubble back.
"There is no 'he,'" Kurt said defiantly. "I was simply thinking about the time I had in high school with some wonderful, close friends. I got a message from one of them earlier today, and it was a nice surprise, since I hadn't spoken to him for a while."
"Ha-ha!" Mari clapped and pointed at him. "What's his name?"
"Mike," Kurt rolled his eyes. "But that's not the point. He's just a friend."
"So far," Mari waggled her eyebrows.
"No," Kurt said firmly. "Mike is my friend. Not a frieind-with-benefits or a fuck-buddy, just a friend. That's all we ever were. And we weren't exactly the closest of friends, either, so we never even reached the stage where we could joke about that sort of thing."
"Yeah, that was you and Fuck, right?" Mari laughed loudly, attracting the attention of the poor gentleman over by the coat rack. Kurt smiled apologetically at him before hissing, "His name was Puck, and you know that full well!"
Mari waved a hand, still laughing. "Oh, details," she said dismissively. "I can call that stud whatever the hell I want."
Kurt made a vow to never speak to Mari ever again. It was her fault, after all, that his cheeks started burning and his stomach flipped over as soon as he logged into facebook and saw a little red flag telling him he had a new message. All her fault.
'I am so buying her that hideous blouse with marigolds on it for Christmas,' Kurt decided, ignoring his stomach as he read the new message.
I've looked over the dates you all sent me, and the only one that works for everyone is the 17th. So the 17th it is! Let's say five to midnight, since that should give everyone enough time to at least pop in to say hello. If you're arriving around the dinner hour, I wouldn't turn away a small, prepared dish, either.
Hope to see you all soon!
Kurt was not trying to come up with recipes that were purposely complicated and intricate just to impress him, not at all.
Kurt pressed the buzzer of Mike's building, a box of assorted, homemade gourmet cookies tucked under his arm and a pie pan balanced on his other hand. He had always had a flair for expensive and intricate desserts, after all. It had only taken him seven hours for just the pie, and that was practically no time at all.
"Hello?" a voice greeted him through the speaker, and he recognized it as Rachel's.
"Rachel Berry," he smiled, hoping she would hear it in his voice.
"Kurt!" she all but squealed his name, and the door clicked open. It took a little shuffling, but he got inside and made his way up to Mike's floor. He hoped the doors would be clearly labeled; his own apartment building was lacking in that area and it had taken Kurt two circles of the floor to figure out that all the zeros had been stolen.
But he needn't have worried. Mike had put two balloons on his door and there was a piece of paper that read, "Mike's Pad" taped just below the peephole. Kurt tested the handle, found that the door was unlocked, and let himself in.
He was immediately accosted by two pairs of hands grabbing his pie and cookies, then pulling him into a tight bear hug that made him feel like his head was about to pop off.
"I'm so glad you're here!" Rachel exclaimed, her wild hair in his face and obscuring his view.
"It's been forever!" Tina's voice said in his left ear, telling him that the other pair of hands belonged to her. Kurt squeezed the two girls briefly before letting go, holding both at an arm's length to get a good look at them.
He was most surprised with Rachel's appearance. The animal sweaters and Catholic schoolgirl skirts were gone, replaced by an extremely flattering red dress. Her hair was still thick and shiny, but for whatever reason it looked nicer and more cared for than it had back in high school. He would have to ask her what she had been putting in it.
Tina was wearing a pair of dark skinny jeans and a frilly, short-sleeved blouse. Her hair was no longer streaked with color, but it was just as long and straight as he remembered. He was pleased to see that she had toned down the makeup, opting for a more natural look, especially around her eyes.
"You two look breathtaking," he said truthfully, beaming at them.
"Come on," Rachel grabbed his arm. "I want you to meet my boyfriend!" Kurt laughed, allowing Rachel to pull him over to the side of the room, where a tall man was chatting with another, shorter man. Rachel put a hand on the taller of the two's arm, and he turned and grinned at her.
"Kurt, this is Gavin," Rachel looped her arm though his. "Gavin was my co-star in the off-Broadway production of These Four Walls."
"Nice to meet you," Kurt nodded, still smiling. "I'm afraid I know nothing about that particular production, however. Play or musical?"
"Play," Rachel answered immediately. "Shocking, isn't it? Me in a play. But it's been nothing but a joy every night."
"I play the sexually frustrated, mute painter," Gavin explained, his voice much deeper than Kurt had been expecting.
"And I play his best friend who keeps telling him to get out and get some!" Rachel giggled.
"Sounds…" Kurt struggled for the correct word, "interesting."
"Oh, it is," Rachel nodded enthusiastically. "It's one of the only plays out there where the main character doesn't utter a single word, not even in a recorded voice-over!"
"That's," Kurt was about to say 'lovely,' but he caught sight of a familiar face waving over Rachel's shoulder, "Is that Jesse?"
But Jesse was already walking over to them, a smile on his face. Gavin's expression darkened, something that did not go unnoticed by both Rachel and Kurt. Rachel's grip on Gavin's arm tightened.
"Kurt!" Jesse took the smaller man by surprise when he pulled him into a hug. "How've you been?"
It took Kurt a minute to both form an answer and hug Jesse back, but he eventually did both.
"Great," he said as Jesse released him. "And you?"
"Perfect," Jesse bragged, a haughty tone in his voice. "I've just landed a role in the new Broadway musical Dorm de Dorm. It's a musical comedy that satirizes college life." He puffed out his chest as he added, "I got the lead."
"Gavin read the part in the workshop," Rachel hissed in Kurt's ear. Kurt looked from Jesse to Gavin, realizing that this was just another New Directions vs. Vocal Adrenaline fight that he didn't want to get involved in.
"Nice meeting you," he said quickly to Gavin, "and it was nice seeing you again, Jesse. I'm going to find our host and offer my congratulations on his new place."
He made his exit as Gavin and Jesse started a staring contest.
"Good move," Tina reappeared at his side. "Don't get caught in the crossfire."
"You don't have to tell me twice," Kurt shook his head. "Honestly, it's like we're back in high school. And here I thought things with Jesse were patched up and we could all behave like responsible adults."
"You know Rachel," Tina giggled softly. "She loves her drama." Kurt couldn't help but giggle along with her.
"Mike's over in the kitchen," Tina pointed to the far end of the room, where Mike was standing with his back to them. Kurt headed over, ignoring the fact that his clothes suddenly felt very tight and very hot.
"Hi, Mike," he said, reaching out to place a hand on the man's arm. Mike was smiling as he turned to greet Kurt, his eyes twinkling and looking almost exactly the same as he had back in high school, the only difference being a few inches in height.
"Hey, Kurt," Mike stooped down to give him a brief one-armed hug. "I'm so glad you made it!"
"Me too," Kurt laughed. "It's so great to see you and Tina and Rachel again. Where's Matt?"
"Oh, he's not coming," Mike shrugged.
"Why not?" Kurt's brain was moving a mile a minute, already coming up with stories about how Mike and Matt had had some sort of falling out where Matt had moved across the country to get away from his ex-best friend.
"He still lives in Ohio," Mike explained. "I just added him to the message out of habit."
"Oh," Kurt nodded, pleased that the two were, obviously, still good friends. "That makes sense." He grinned, adding, "I invited Mercedes to a party one of the girls at work had a few weeks ago."
"It's hard living without your other half," Mike shrugged again. "But hey, New York City is the perfect place to get out and explore and find yourself and all that sentimental bullshit, right?"
"Too true," Kurt laughs. "So have you," he finger-quoted the term, "'found yourself' yet?"
"Meh," Mike turned half around, grabbing hold of a wooden spoon that was sticking out of a pot on the stove and starting to stir whatever was inside. "I mean, I've landed some amazing dancing gigs. A couple music videos here and there, I was in the last dance-centered musical on Broadway, and my name's out there, so I guess you could say I've found my place in the world."
"That's fantastic," Kurt tried to keep the jealousy out of his voice. "It's a hard business to get into and stay in once you get there."
"Don't have to tell me twice," Mike shook his head. "No, I'll never forget it, I landed my first music video role and during rehearsals I rolled my ankle. It swelled up like a freaking football and I couldn't even walk on it, so obviously I lost the job. My physical therapist literally had to tie me to the bed to get me to stop over-working it. It was like the world was ending because I lost one job, you know?"
"I get it," Kurt agreed. "I've read parts for a few workshops, but I haven't made it further than that. And my career in fashion hasn't really taken off either, so I work at a consignment shop to pay the bills."
"You should try Starbucks," Mike took the spoon out of the pot and tasted it. He pursed his lips, then held out the spoon to Kurt. "Here, what do you think?" Kurt let Mike spoon the rest of the liquid into his mouth, frowning with concentration then saying, "It's a little bland."
"My thoughts exactly," Mike grabbed the salt-shaker and dumped a liberal amount into the liquid, choosing another spoon and stirring it some more. "But yeah, try Starbucks."
"What do you mean?" Kurt was confused. He already had a job, so why look for another that had nothing to do with fashion or theatre?
"It's supposed to be a really good place for actors to work," Mike explained. "You have to memorize a bajillion different drinks, so that helps with memorizing lines. Plus, everyone goes to Starbucks, producers and directors and working actors included."
"Fair point," Kurt smiled. "I'll have to look into that. Thanks, Mike."
It was surprising just how knowledgeable Mike was when it came to the theatre. Kurt listened in on a conversation Mike had later in the evening with Jesse, where the two talked all about the shows they had been in and laughing about how, for one particular show they had both been in together off-Broadway, Mike had ended up being Jesse's understudy.
"Which was complete bullshit, because they know I'm a dancer, not a freaking actor," Mike slapped his leg, eyes watering with tears. "The one night you weren't there, I practically had to beg Val to go on for you. Poor guy was terrified, but he went on and then got bumped up to first cover the next day!"
"And then he got the job when the show went on tour!" Jesse laughed as well, considerably less egotistical and bitter than he had been in high school. "I'm not complaining, though, because that's what got my foot in the door for my Broadway debut."
This was a very different Mike than the one he had gone to high school with. This was a man who was outgoing and lived his life as openly as possible, holding two conversations at once and laughing louder than anyone else in the room. He held himself with grace and confidence, and yet he still had not lost the friendliness that Kurt had found so admirable in high school.
And now that he was paying attention (thanks, Mari), he had to admit that Mike was certainly quite attractive, in both looks and personality.
Later in the evening, after most of Mike's friends had left, Rachel pulled Kurt, Mike, and Tina aside, informing them that they had to take a picture together.
"This is like a mini-reunion!" she exclaimed, arms tight around Kurt and Tina's shoulders.
"Shouldn't Jesse be in the picture too?" Kurt asked before he could stop himself, waving over the older man, who suddenly looked nervous.
"Yeah, Jesse, get over here!" Mike agreed, beckoning before Rachel had a chance to object. Jesse chose the spot next to Mike on the end, avoiding Rachel's glare. Gavin had a nasty expression on his face when he raised the camera to take the picture, but he didn't say anything. Kurt, who was sandwiched in-between Mike and Rachel, could practically feel the tension, but he smiled and tried not to let it bother him.
Kurt applied for a job at a Starbucks in the theatre district the next day. Mike was right; he recognized countless theatre actors coming and going. One of the employees had even gotten on good terms with a Broadway director by remembering what time he always came in and having his favorite drink waiting for him when he arrived.
It wasn't as if Starbucks was the magical gateway to landing a part on Broadway. Far from it, Kurt found out once he started working there. He had to make an effort to start conversations with the people that came in, because most of the time they were in a hurry. This was easiest when there wasn't a line of other people waiting, obviously, which explained why nobody wanted to work the breakfast and lunch shifts. They all wanted the weird hours where people would straggle in alone.
That was how Kurt got stuck with the post-performance rush shift, working from 10 pm to closing most nights. He was bombarded with tourists clutching Playbills, then, shortly after, the stars of the show, wearing big sunglasses to hide their stage makeup and hats because their hair was still pinned up. It was mainly the backup dancers and ensemble members who came dressed like that; the stars of the shows all looked presentable and washed up.
It was actually kind of nice, Kurt found. A couple big Broadway names made a habit out of coming in just as they were about to put up the closed sign, so as not to attract any unwanted attention from fans who were also getting a post-show drink. One particularly well-known actress actually remembered Kurt from a time they had read a workshop together, and Kurt copied his co-worker and always had a drink ready for her when she came in.
This paid off when she slipped him a casting notice for the show she was currently starring in.
"Most of the ensemble's contracts are up," she told him, muttering out of the side of her mouth as she pretended to dig in her purse for her wallet. "There aren't any name roles up for grabs yet, but from the looks of things, Harry's going to be gone within a month. Make sure you try for the track that understudies his role." She slid a Playbill for the show across the counter with her money. "Keep the change." She winked at him as she turned to leave, holding up a hand to stifle his thank you.
Kurt was so busy stowing the casting notice and the Playbill into the pocket of his apron that he didn't notice Mike Chang sitting at the table by the window, watching him. He looked up, face flushed, when Mike started to clap.
"Now that's the way to do it," Mike grinned broadly, coming over to the counter. "Mind whipping me up something with too much sugar to be healthy?" Kurt noticed that Mike was wearing eyeliner and blush, so he asked, "Did your show just end?"
"Yep," Mike leaned against the counter lazily, still grinning. "I probably look like a complete moron, wearing stage makeup outside of the theatre, but hey, it's New York City. Nobody looks at you twice. I mean, if I was doing Cats or something they would, but this is, like, completely normal."
Kurt laughed as he started making Mike his requested sugary drink. "That's true," he agreed. "So what show are you doing now?"
"West Side Story. It's kind of awesome, being the only Asian in a cast full of white people and Latinos. I'm pretty sure they didn't know which gang to put me in for a while, too, because they had me doing the Jets' dance in rehearsals for about two weeks before they changed their minds and made me a Shark. Oh, and here's the best part: I understudy Bernardo. Do I look like a Bernardo to you?"
"I'm gonna go with no," Kurt shook his head, starting the blender and cutting the conversation off for a few seconds.
"Whatever, it gives me a higher paycheck, understudying him," Mike shrugged. "I'm not complaining."
"Whipped cream?" Kurt asked, pouring Mike's drink into a plastic cup.
"Yes please," Mike straightened up, craning his neck to watch Kurt finish his drink. "So what did you give me?"
"A toffee mocha frappuccino," Kurt said, sprinkling the top with chocolate powder. "What do you think?"
"I think it looks like the most delicious thing I've ever seen in my entire life," Mike dug his wallet out of his pocket, but Kurt waved the hand that was not holding the drink, saying, "Think of it as a late congratulations gift for landing a role in West Side Story." He set the drink down on the counter, raising an eyebrow expectantly. Mike picked it up and took a sip, making an appreciative "mmmm" sound.
They ended up walking around outside a bit, after Kurt's co-worker all but shoved him out the door, saying he would take care of closing the shop. She clearly was under the impression that they were dating. Kurt made a mental note to explain that they were just friends at some point during their next shift together.
"You excited for the audition?" Mike asked, getting straight to the point.
"More completely shocked and not quite prepared," Kurt admitted. "I mean, I only found out about it five minutes ago."
"But hey, what did I tell you?" Mike grinned, the straw of his drink between his teeth. "Starbucks is the place to get your foot in the door."
"And I am forever indebted to you, oh wise one," Kurt bobbed his head in a half-bow.
"You have to let me know how the audition goes," Mike's voice was slightly demanding. "I want to come see you if you get the part." Kurt's face flushed, more out of embarrassment than anything else. He'd never thought to go see Mike's show. He stayed silent for a moment too long, though, because Mike said quickly, "Don't worry about it."
"No, that was rude," Kurt looked at the ground as they walked, wrinkling his nose when he spots a used, discarded condom. "I should have asked."
"You'll come the next time you're not working the after show shift," Mike decided for him. "And don't beat yourself up about it."
Kurt thought that Mike must have gotten used to being forgotten back in high school. He had slunk into the background after he and Tina had broken up, never once demanding the spotlight when he wasn't dancing. But there was a fine line between being in the background and being forgotten, and Kurt wasn't about to make Mike re-live those days of being forgotten. He wasn't going to let Mike stay in a supporting role. He was going to let Mike be the star.
Kurt sat down on a bench, crossed his legs, and said, "Tell me how you got to New York City."
They sat for three hours, Mike talking and Kurt listening. It was one of the most eye-opening and enjoyable conversations Kurt had ever had in his entire life.