A/N: Cathedral Carver is a rock goddess for looking at this story for me.
It's not AU. Please give it a try, because I really like it. It may be a one-shot, or there may be more to come. Haven't decided yet.
P.S. I wrote this instead of reading a 300-page book by tomorrow. Oops.
Over the past several months, I've been on a mission to find the perfect coffee shop. I don't even know what I'm looking for, really, but I'm positive that I'll know it when I see it. I've been to every Starbucks within 50 miles of Westerville, and while their flavor shots are intriguing – particularly around the holidays – they're a bit too commercial for my tastes. So I've been hitting the smaller places lately.
But The Daily Grind tends to scorch their drip coffee, and Cuppa Joe's uses styrofoam cups, and Brew-Ha-Ha has uncomfortable chairs. Nothing is quite right, and every day, I cross another coffee shop off the master list.
It's a cold morning in early December when I pull up outside a place called the Lima Bean. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but if my experience as an Anderson has taught me anything, it's that appearances can be deceiving. I park in the side lot and hurry toward the shop, buttoning my overcoat against the biting wind.
The place is nearly empty inside. It's warm, and smells like ground coffee beans and steamed milk, and I pause inside the door as realization dawns.
This is it.
This is the perfect coffee shop.
There's a sense of real, palpable relief, like I can finally stop searching. Like I've been looking for it forever. I step up to the counter, still trying to figure out exactly what it is about this place that makes it different. The barista looks at me expectantly.
"Medium drip, please," I say to her. I don't have any cash on me, so I swipe my credit card and enter my pin number before moving to the end of the counter. Soon enough, a fresh cup of coffee is pressed into my hand, labeled with a scribbled Blaine. She must have seen my name on my credit card, I guess. After adding cream and sweetener to the coffee, I turn and scan the room, looking for a good seat.
There's a lot of empty tables near the windows – which means good light for reading – but my eyes are drawn to a small table in the middle, where a guy my age is seated, watching me. An attractive guy my age. He's definitely watching, too – not just looking – and there's something about him that pulls me closer.
I walk up, smiling at him with more confidence than I'm feeling. "Hi."
His eyes are wide. They're a shade of blue that I can't quite place, but would like to. "Hi," he replies, his voice high and light.
"My name's Blaine."
His smile fades a little. I don't blame him; it's a dumb name. "I'm Kurt."
"Kurt. May I join you?"
"Um... sure." I slip into the seat across from him, stowing my laptop case under the table.
I'm home-schooled, which for some kids means sitting at the kitchen table getting algebra lessons from their mom, but for me means monthly assignments and research papers that I complete on my own timeline. In September, I started bringing my computer to a different coffee shop every day. It was a way to escape the oppressive silence of my house, and having access to a steady stream of coffee and fresh biscotti never hurt, either.
This is the first time that I've ever sought out company, though. Maybe it's the thrill of finding the perfect coffee shop that gives me the nerve.
"Come here often?" Kurt asks, one delicate eyebrow raised. He's so pretty it almost hurts to look at him.
I smirk in response, taking a sip of coffee. "First time," I say after swallowing, then tip my cup slightly. "Won't be the last, though. This coffee is really good."
He nods, taking a pull from his own cup. We sit in silence, not quite looking at each other but not quite looking away from each other, either. "So," he says at last. "What brings you to Lima?"
"What makes you assume I'm not from Lima?" I parry back. He just looks at me inscrutably, and finally I have to laugh. "Okay, you got me, I'm not from Lima. I live in Westerville. What gave me away?"
"Sixth sense," he says drily. "And you didn't answer my question."
"I like to do my homework in coffee shops."
"You're in high school?"
"Yeah, I'm a senior."
He glances over at the wall clock. "It's ten o'clock, on a Tuesday morning. Why aren't you in class?"
This seems to throw him. "Oh. I didn't realize."
"We're not all social misfits, I swear."
"I figured you were at Dalton or something."
"No, but you're not far off-base. I did go to Dalton for a couple of years," I admit.
"Huh." He reaches for his coffee again, and I notice that his hands are shaking. Is he nervous?
"What about you?" I ask, cocking my head. "Shouldn't you be in class?"
"Nope. Graduated last year."
"So you're my age, then." Seeing him pause, I supply, "I should've graduated last spring, like you, but I had to take several months off from school. Ended up missing too much time to make up the work. So I'm repeating my senior year."
I wait for the inevitable questions, but to my surprise, none come. We settle back into silence. I look around the coffee shop, trying again to figure out what makes it so perfect, but my mind just keeps coming back to my new friend. My new friend with the lovely face, and the inscrutable expressions, and the swooping hair. I wonder what it would feel like between my fingers as we kissed, pushed up against his Navigator, hands roaming and curfew approaching–
"Sorry to interrupt." I look up to see the barista standing beside us, rocking back and forth slightly on the balls of her feet. "We just had a new batch of biscotti come out of the oven, and I wanted to bring you two some." She sets down a heaping plate of biscotti, and my mouth instantly starts to water.
Kurt's almost glaring at her. "Thank you, Bethany."
"You're welcome, Kurt," she says back, smiling widely. I start to pull out my wallet, but she waves it away. "Don't be silly, Blaine. It's on the house."
I thank her politely, adding, "You're very good with names."
Her eyes flicker back to Kurt, and her smile dims. "Yes. Well. I should get back to work. Enjoy."
She disappears again, and I nudge the plate toward Kurt, motioning for him to take a piece. He does, his face still tight from the exchange with Bethany. I take one too and, no surprise, it's just about the best biscotti I've ever had. I take the lid off my coffee cup and dunk the biscotti into the coffee little by little, chewing on the ends of it. When I look up, Kurt is watching me, his eyes terribly sad.
I can tell that he's staring at my hairline, and I raise my fingers to the spot, feeling a little self-conscious all of a sudden. "It's a scar," I tell him plainly, and he nods in response. "It doesn't hurt," I assure him.
The silence stretches out for miles between us, until I finally speak. "It happened a few months into my senior year," I tell him. "I'd left Dalton and transferred to a public school, and I guess there were some homophobes there with violent tendencies. I'm... I mean... I'm gay." He doesn't look perturbed or even surprised by that information, so I push onward. "Apparently a group of them cornered me and beat me pretty severely."
"I don't remember any of it." I trace one finger along the dark raised scar, from my hairline to halfway back my scalp. "The head trauma was the worst of it; one of them was carrying a crowbar. I was in a coma for a really long time."
He swallows. "And when you came out of it?"
"It was pretty rough. I have something called retrograde amnesia. I lost over a year's worth of memories."
This doesn't seem to faze him, which is nice. Most people get freaked out when I tell them. "And none of it ever came back?"
"Not yet, no."
He sighs. "Were there any other lasting effects from that night?"
"I... How'd you know it happened at night?"
"I just figured. Those sorts of attacks tend to happen when it's dark out."
"Oh. Well, no, the amnesia was about it. Sometimes I get migraine headaches, but not so often anymore. And..." I break off, embarrassed. Kurt just looks at me expectantly. "And I have... spells, sometimes."
"Spells," he repeats.
"They're kind of like hallucinations, I guess," I admit, hoping that he won't think I'm crazy. "Like the other day, my parents and I went shopping at the Gap, and I had this bizarre daydream where I was chasing a Gap employee around the store and serenading him with a really inappropriately sexual song. Dancing around and jumping on tables and stuff." I laugh weakly. "Weird, right? No one would ever do that."
"I don't know, they might if he was a junior manager," he deadpans. "Anyway, how do you know it wasn't a memory?"
I can't tell if he's making fun of me. "You think I actually went into somebody's workplace and busted a groove?"
"Nah. Like I said, it happens sometimes. The spells, I mean. My dad says that it's my brain's way of trying to fill in the memory gaps with nonsense." At the mention of my dad, Kurt stiffens visibly. Maybe he has a bad relationship with his own father. I try to picture what his dad would look like – tall and thin like him, maybe, with big eyes – but I just keep coming up with an image of a bald guy wearing coveralls and a baseball cap. I almost tell him that, but I wouldn't want to accidentally offend him. "So are you in college?" I ask.
"Me? No." He shoves a big piece of biscotti into his mouth, and I get the distinct impression that it's because he doesn't want to talk about college. As he chews, he rubs the side of his neck unconsciously. My eyes follow the motion of his fingers under the thin chain of his necklace, and – oh.
"Oh, god. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, I'll go to college at some point–"
"No," I interrupt. "I'm sorry for talking about my attack." I gesture to his neck, where his fingers are still tracing over a scar. Now that I know to look, there are others, too. One next to his right eye, and a large one along his collarbone. "You haven't had an easy time of it either, have you?"
He just looks at me, stricken. His eyes are slowly becoming glassy with tears, so I look down at my coffee politely until he can compose himself. When I look back up, though, the tears have spilled over, and he's shaking his head over and over. "I can't do this," he whispers.
"Do what? Live in Ohio? I know, it's hard, but you won't be here forever. I'm planning on leaving at the first opportunity myself. You just have to have courage–"
There's a sharp squeak as he shoves his chair back, and then he's standing, pulling on his coat. "I have to go."
"Was it something I said?" God, I hope not. There's something about Kurt that makes me want to curl up beside him and lose myself in him. Just cuddle all day long, watching The Sound of Music and singing along in two-part harmony and – shit. From the look on Kurt's face, I know I just had another one of my spells.
"What did you see?" he asks.
I stare at him, lost for words. "Please don't go."
He wipes his tear-streaked cheeks with the back of his sleeve, and glances over at the barista, who's watching us with a pitying expression. "I have to."
"Why? Just stay a bit longer. I promise I won't say anything stupid this time."
"It's not you, it's... I mean, your dad..."
He looks away for a moment, and when he looks back, it's with an expression of longing so acute, it makes my breath catch in my throat. "I need to go now. But... I'll come back. Tomorrow morning. Around ten o'clock. If you–"
"I'll be here waiting."
I can't tell if it's relief or trepidation in his eyes as he nods, and then turns and leaves. I sit alone for a minute, trying to make sense of what just happened. Bethany is still watching me. So I stand up, slinging my laptop case over my shoulder and picking up the coffee and biscotti. There's a window seat near the back that's a bit more private.
Once I'm settled into the new seat, Bethany gets back to work, chatting with a new customer. I turn to gaze out the window, and that's when I see him. Kurt is sitting in the driver's seat of a parked Navigator, not thirty feet away. His forehead is resting against the steering wheel, his face covered by his hands. I can't be sure, but judging by the shaking of his shoulders, it looks like he's sobbing.
Unsettled, I sip at my lukewarm coffee. After a few minutes, he straightens up, starts the engine, and pulls out of the parking lot. I take out my laptop, ready to work on my essay on the Holy Roman Empire, when it suddenly hits me.
How did I know he drives a Navigator?