Kurt didn't talk to anyone after Paul left. No, "left" was too simple a word. That implied that Kurt knew that Paul was going, that there was even something wrong.
Kurt came home one day and Paul's dresser was empty and his toothbrush wasn't in the cup anymore. He'd texted and called Paul, but never got an answer.
He thought about calling someone. His father, or Finn, or even Rachel. But they all had their own problems to deal with. Their own lives to live. Kurt had moved just far enough away that visits had to be planned and coordinated. Far enough away that it was a hassle. He communicated through emails and texts, but could never shake the feeling that all he was was a nuisance to them.
It wasn't that he didn't have any friends here. It wasn't as though he and Paul had lived in world that only consisted of the two of them and no one else. It was just... all their friends had been Paul's friends. Kurt had come to school and met Paul and immersed himself in Paul's world. What would he have said to them? Ask them why Paul had left and hadn't bothered to even leave a note?
No. He already felt like an idiot, and talking about it would have made it so much worse.
So Kurt just went on with life, carefully avoiding all the places in his home that belonged to Paul. He still slept on the right side of the bed, even though the reading lamp was on the other side. He never sat in the arm chair, but curled up on the edge of the sofa closest to it. He kept the spare sink in the bathroom clean. Just in case. But he just stopped going to clubs, stopped talking to people.
Stopped reaching out.
Kurt didn't realize he wasn't eating as much until he realized how much he hated all the foods Paul loved. He was still buying for both of them, and Paul had been the picky eater. It was easier to appease him than to try and figure out recipes they could both enjoy.
The food ended up sitting in the fridge until it slumped and softened. And Kurt would throw it out, then go to the grocery store and replace it. In case Paul came back home, hungry.
Kurt couldn't handle cooking for one. The small portions and single plate sitting by itself on the table were too depressing. He ate easy things like peanut butter and apple sandwiches, and bowls of cereal. Standing over the sink and eating quickly, without ceremony.
Some days he forgot to eat at all.
On what would have been their anniversary, Kurt was sprawled on his couch, watching terribly acted infomercials at three in the morning. He lay there, staring at the television, watching as hands loaded vegetables into the cups and blended them into salsa. Who the hell would ever need this? Was it so much better than just buying it in a jar?
A number flashed on the screen. Kurt found himself reaching for his phone and dialing. With every ring, his heart beat harder.
"Magic Bullet, this is Margret, can I help you?"
"Oh, um, is this customer service?"
"No this is sales, I'll transfer you. Please hold."
Muzak started playing in his ear and Kurt was going to hang up. This was stupid. He was hanging up right now. The music stopped and a new voice started talking.
"Hi, this is Sharon with customer service, what can I help you with?" She had a faint southern accent and Kurt smiled.
"Yeah, hi. I was thinking about getting a Magic Bullet, but I had a question?"
"Well..." God, this was a terrible idea. "This thing blends pretty well, and I was wondering, if I were to cook carrots or something in it and then blend it really good if it would be alright to feed to a baby."
"You want to make baby food with the Magic Bullet?" Kurt couldn't tell if she her tone was skeptical or not.
"Well, how old is your baby?"
Oh god. Kurt stared at the wall and picked a number out of thin air. "She's going to be seven months next week."
The woman on the other line cooed. "Oh okay. She'll be just fine with solids then. What you can actually do is, throw some carrots – pealed and cleaned – with some water right in the cup, heat up the food right in there, and blend it and keep it stored right in the fridge. It'll cut down on a lot of dish washing." She chuckled.
Kurt laughed along with her. "Yeah, and it's its own little bowl. The Magic Bullet just gets better and better."
"No, no, no. Don't feed her out of the container."
"Germs. Goes right back into the container and then sits there. Not good for the baby. Take some of the
container, put it in a bowl, and put the container back. Feed her out of the bowl, you won't have to worry about it."
"Oh wow. Thank you."
"Of course! What's your little girl's name?"
Kurt paused. "Paula." His heart throbbed.
"That's a sweet name. Do you have any other questions for me, honey?"
"No, thanks. You've been exceedingly helpful."
"Thank you. Do you want me to transfer you to sales?"
He sat there for a moment, thinking. "Yes, please." He got up and grabbed his wallet from the coffee table. "Thanks, Sharon."
"It's my pleasure. Oh! And before I send you off, since you seem like you're new at all this; don't keep the baby food for more than a week or so. Don't take any chances."
Kurt felt torn between needing to sob and wanting to hug this faceless woman. "I'll remember that."
"Okay, goodnight." The line beeped, and muzak filled his ears again.
When the box came in, Kurt unpacked both of the small blenders and set them side by side on the counter. He screwed on the protective lips on each other mugs, and lined the containers up by color and height. He bought a container of cinnamon sticks and a couple of avocados and huge container of ice cream and never even plugged the blenders in.
Six months after Paul left, Kurt climbed into bed and rolled on his side. The other half looked open and empty, like an ocean of comforters and sheets. His arms ached, missing what they no longer held.
Kurt took his pillows off the bed and headed into the living room. After that, he started sleeping exclusively on the sofa, pressed tightly to the back of the couch. Their bedroom became his own walk-in closet.
Just after Halloween, Kurt bought himself a set of twenty-five assorted knives, impressed by the fact they could cut through a box of frozen peas and then go right to peeling the skin off a tomato.
He spent fifteen minutes on the telephone with the salesperson, sharing stories about his first Thanksgiving cooking for his in-laws and laughing. At how the pie hadn't cooked all the way through, and he'd been forced - while his wife distracted the family - to sneak off to the store to buy a replacement. At how is mother-in-law had said it was delicious and exclaimed that she was happy Kurt had used the recipe she'd given him.
Kurt ended up using the knives to practice cutting himself out of his shoes. He ruined half a dozen pairs, sawing them at the toe. Slicing them in half, curious to see what they looked like on the inside. He lined the halves on a bookshelf and threw out their companions.
On Black Friday, he realized he hadn't spoken aloud to any one in over a week. He had walked to and from classes, not making eye contact, not accidentally bumping into anyone, not murmuring any apologies. He wrapped himself in his quilt, knees pulled up into his chest while he sat on the sofa. Kurt looked around, his mind hazy.
If no one knew he was here, was any of this even real? He knew he was there, but that didn't instill any confidence within him.
Slowly he got up from the couch and headed into the bedroom. He started pulling totes from under the bed. He ripped the lids off and shuffled through their contents, and when he discovered what he was looking for, he stood and left the mess behind.
Settling back down on the sofa, Kurt grabbed his cellphone from the coffee table. He flipped through the yearbook he'd taken out, searching the sea of faces for one in particular. He found it almost immediately, as if they book was just waiting for him to open it to that page.
Kurt scrolled through his phone. He wouldn't remember his voice, Kurt was sure of it.
High school was so strange. He had talked to less than two dozen people and yet he still had almost a hundred contacts. After graduation, phones had been passed around like collection plates, numbers being added in without a care as to who you were. As if that had meant everyone was given a clean slate.
He pressed the send button anyway, and when the call connected and started ringing his heart raced in his chest. It rang half a dozen times, and Kurt pressed his thumb over the end button, ready to disconnect if it sent him to voice mail. But instead the ringing ended and a voice spoke.
"Hi, this is Kyle from Wallingford Marketing, I'm wondering if you would be willing to complete a survey."
"Okay, well as part of giveaways, we have prizes. And one of our grand prizes is a vacation, and we're looking for a new location to send people. Where would you like to go, if you were to win a trip?"
"The Taj Mahal." He didn't even hesitate.
Kurt could feel his hand tightening around the phone. "And why is that, sir?"
"I don't really know. I guess I've always like the idea of being able to visit a love story instead of seeing one. Plus it's one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Everyone wants to go to Paris or Italy. I don't think the Taj Mahal gets enough credit."
He paused, swallowing around a lump in his throat he didn't understand. "Okay, thank you for answering our question. We appreciate your help."
"Is that it?"
"Okay, goodnight then." The other end of the line went dead.
Kurt snapped his phone shut and threw it on the floor. "He's still an asshole," he said out loud, wrapping his blanket tight around his shoulders and turning up the television.
The day before Christmas Eve, Kurt wasn't on his way home to celebrate with his family. A never ending chain of blizzards had grounded every plane in or out of the city. He made himself pancakes and ate them dry, sitting on the kitchen counter, drumming his heels against the cupboard doors below.
As the sun set and snow swirled harder and faster outside his windows, he felt herself slipping deeper and deeper into a communicationless depression. He curled on the sofa, leaving the TV on as background noise and flipping through a magazine he'd bought on a whim the last time he was out shopping.
His hand stopped itself on a large full page ad. White numbers on a black square on the bottom stared up at him. Without thinking twice about it, Kurt grabbed his phone and punched the numbers in. It rang twice before someone picked up.
"Teen Crisis Hotline."
"My mother died."
"Hold on, I'll send you to the Grieving line."
"There are different lines?" But the line was already quiet and ticking while he was transferred. His fingers teared at the corner of the magazine, waiting.
"Hi, I'm Jennifer. Do you need to talk to someone?"
"My mother died."
"Oh my god, I am so, so sorry. Was it recent?"
"No. When I was eight. I never really talked about it to anyone. I feel like maybe this conversation is overdue."
"Feelings never really go away. Sometimes they just crop up and we don't know where they came from or why they're back."
"I... I don't even remember it. Sometimes I think it was a car accident, and then other times I think it was cancer, and sometimes I think she was gunned down in a mugging. I don't remember which one is real and which ones are scenes from movies I've seen on TNT."
"When you're little, sometimes you push away the bad memories. To save yourself from the painful feelings."
"But now I don't have any memories. We had pictures of her all over the living room, but it's like... a woman who came with the frame. I don't know who she is. All I have is the smell of her, and the feel of her hand on my forehead... I don't know, maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this."
"People never really leave us, honey. I mean, you have what good memories you have of her, right?"
"...yeah, I guess. I just wish I had more."
"And I'm sure your father is willing to talk to you about her. He must have a ton of stories, he'd help you remember. You still have him."
Kurt hung up the phone and headed into the kitchen to heat up some leftover pancakes.
On New Year's Eve, Kurt was alone in the apartment, trying to fit his third Snuggie box onto the shelf of the closet. A pile of clutter shifted and rained down on top of him. The corner of a book cracked against the top of his foot and he hissed, jumping back. He tossed the box onto the bed and bent down, massaging the bone.
His yearbook lay there innocently, but he was catching onto it's game. It was the third time that week he'd moved it and the fourth time it had wounded him. He kicked it across the floor and walked out of the bedroom, grabbing his cell from the dresser.
It was late. After midnight. No one would be home. Or if they were, they wouldn't be able to hear the phone ringing over music and celebration. He'd just listen to the voice message and hang up before it beeped, encouraging him to leave his own.
But he picked up. "Hello?" He didn't sound tired or drunk; he sounded bored.
Kurt didn't bother with a spiel that time. "If you could give to one cause what would it be?"
The other man paused. "Saving the birds in Prince William Sound. In Alaska."
"Because no one thinks about it anymore. They've moved on to bigger and more recent disasters. And that sound never really recovered. It just got forgotten."
Kuer didn't realize he was crying until a tear slipped into the corner of his mouth, letting him taste its saltiness. "Oh." He dragged his sleeve across his face. "Okay. Thank you."
He dropped the phone onto the sofa next to him, not bothering to close it. Rolling onto his side, he could hear the voice on the phone softly wishing him a happy new year.
In mid February, the news started claiming that the worst storm in years was about to slide through the state. The town went into hysterics. Shovels were sold out, as were giant bags of salt. Milk and bread became precious commodities.
Kurt headed into the grocery store the night before the storm was said to hit, mentally compiling a list while grabbing a basket from the pile. He had enough food to feed a small army, but was seriously lacking things like batteries and candles, which would be more helpful in a situation like a black out than say... a sandwich.
He turned the corner and glanced down an aisle, scanning the items quickly, when his legs stopped working. Down at the other end of the store, pawing through the meat section, was Paul.
A thousand scenarios ran through Kurt's head. Scenarios he thought up over the past year and a half. Paul getting in a car crash and being so mangled that no one could recognize him, so calling wasn't even an option. A stray brick knocking him unconscious so that when he woke up he had no memory of his former life. Paul being a Russian sleeper agent who had suddenly been activated.
But they all had a common theme: Paul had left.
But there he was, comparing the prices on chicken breasts. Skinless, Kurt knew, because Paul couldn't abide all the fat that hid in there. How had he stayed out of Kurt's sights for so long? What had Kurt done that Paul had to have left in the middle of the night without a whisper of explanation?
He thought about going up to him. Pushing him and slapping him and crying and asking what he'd done wrong. But that idea went out the window when he saw another man go up to Paul, wrapping an arm around his waist.
He turned, catching them kiss out of the corner of his eye. He left his full basket of items in the produce section and hurried out of the store. Kurt just kept walking, not thinking or knowing where his feet were taking him until he was unlocking his apartment. He made a quick stop in the kitchen, grabbing one of the knives made to cut through hammers, and then went into the bedroom.
It sliced through the sheets like they were butter. He left them in a tattered ball on the floor. It also made its way easily through the mattress, clattering dully when he pulled the blades over the coils. He pulled the ruined mess off the bed frame and leaned it against the wall.
He'd buy a new mattress. And new sheets. A color he liked, not one he was content with. He'd get it off TV. They'd be delivered and set up for him, and he wouldn't have to even look at them if he didn't want to.
Kurt didn't bother turning off the lights when he left again. He tossed the knife into a garbage can as he walked down the street, like he was tossing a murder weapon. And in a way, he was.
He went into the first bar he happened upon that was actually well lit and didn't have cracks in the windows.
He ordered a shot and slammed it back before the bartender had time to screw the top back on. He waved for another, grimacing against the burn in his throat.
It all got a little hazy and dark after that.
The light was painful against the back of his eyelids and Kurt groaned, rolling onto his back and stretching his arms. He paused, confused. He hadn't rolled onto his back after waking up in close to a year.
Sitting up, he looked around. He was on the couch in his apartment, but the sofabed had been pulled out. The TV was off, another first in a long time. Kurt could hear someone puttering in the kitchen.
His head felt like it was going to explode.
Pressing the heel of his palm to his temple, he ripped the blankets off and got up, teetering. He made his way to the kitchen, only bumping into the coffee table and the door jam. His feet padded noisily against the linoleum and the man in his kitchen turned around.
"Morning. I was going to make breakfast, but it turns out most of your food is moldy or like, Hot Pockets."
Kurt stared at Dave, his mouth open and silent. Dave held a plate of sliced fruit out to him.