The week passes in a blur of anxious fussing on his mom’s part and lots of trashy TV shows. He texts Kurt quite a bit, but not all of the time. Kurt has classes and work and people to meet and Blaine has endless amounts of reality TV to plough through. When he gets bored, he finds his old Friends boxset and starts to watch them, for once not unconsciously trying to compare himself to the characters and their situations. He really is content to just sit there and watch the familiar plots unravel, lips twitching slightly at the wittier lines.
He still feels like a balloon most of the time, except now he dislikes the detached sensation—as if he’s about to plummet at any second but doesn’t quite have the energy yet, his stomach tight and waiting. Before he was just resigned to it. He tells Dr Marissa this and apparently it’s a good thing; it means Blaine no longer wants to fall, that his natural fight instinct is starting to overrule his brain. Still, it makes Blaine anxious and now that he’s not resigned to it, he’s kind of fed up with its ubiquitous presence.
Every time he feels like he’s drifting—usually either late at night or when he gets up in the morning, occasionally at another random time for no reason at all—his natural instinct is to think of Kurt. His brain tells him to fight the stupid feeling before numbness creeps in and immediately his head fills with thoughts of familiar arms around him, his fingers twitching to reach for his phone. But he can’t do that, not anymore.
It takes a lot of work to find an alternative. He tries thinking of other things from his past that made him happy, spontaneous front room performances with Coop when he was little, finding his home at Dalton, his friends in the Warblers. All of them are either tainted in some way (Cooper always critiqued his dance moves afterwards—you’re so boring to watch, Blainey) or make him achingly nostalgic which is almost worse than the floating feeling itself.
He tries to use techniques that keep him in the present next. He forces himself to eat a square of chocolate, or raids the freezer and presses ice-cubes up and down his arms until he’s shivering (he’d read on the internet that it’s meant to help with self-harming and figured it might just ease the tension inside him in a similar way). Once he even tries to go for a walk until his mom freaks out over where he has gone and insists on picking him up in the car. He concludes that the present doesn’t help either.
His last resort is to picture a future that’s worth pulling himself gently back to the ground for. He starts by imagining himself in New York, name up in lights, belting out the last note to a standing ovation. But that seems way too farfetched now; he’s made such a mess of things in this past year, there’s no way he can even pretend he deserves that sort of success. Plus, he’s pretty sure that the application he sent to NYADA is going to be wildly unsuccessful and he doesn’t possess the self-determination to move to the big city by himself, not without the safety of college. So, no, he’s not going to end up on Broadway; that ship has long since sailed off into the sunset without him aboard.
Instead, he imagines a different version of himself—a brighter, more confident, talented version. More like Cooper, but minus the cockiness and obsession with melodramatic hand gestures. He pictures himself eating lunch with a producer for his latest album, shaking hands and offering a trade mark grin before heading back to rehearsal at the theatre. He’s surrounded by his fellow cast members who all find him so funny and down-to-earth, who joke around with him during breaks and watch in awe as they run scenes. Then he heads out into the bustling streets again, walking along for a bit, just enjoying the feeling that whilst no one’s watching him, he isn’t invisible in this crowd; he belongs. He hails a taxi and gives his address, watching the huge buildings flash by with every block. He climbs the stairs to his apartment, content not to use the elevator, and opens the door as he calls, “I’m home, honey!” to the person he shares his life with. He always cuts himself off there; he refuses to imagine any version of himself with someone who isn’t Kurt.
These mental pictures don’t make him happy, not really; he’s too aware that the shoes he’s standing in don’t fit. They do make him feel better, though, less like gravity is about to drop him hard over some rocks. Dr Marissa says that progress is progress no matter how small and shouldn’t be underestimated. Blaine nods and pretends he believes him.
He goes back to school the following Monday and it’s just as horrible as he expects it to be. The jocks still throw slurs in his direction, the New Directions are even more offputtingly nice than the last time, and his teachers keep trying to draw up study plans and tutoring sessions so he can graduate on time. He’s already had enough by lunch but he forces himself to follow Tina to the canteen, nodding vaguely as she talks about some choreography she saw on YouTube. His phone buzzes in his pocket and he gingerly reaches to retrieve it, still pretending to listen to Tina’s babbling.
He reads the little word—he would know who it was from even if his phone didn’t tell him— and although he is trying really hard not to base his entire being on Kurt, he can’t help the way it lifts his mood exponentially. He actually offers his opinion on the skirt Tina is waxing lyrical about as they join the queue for food.
He soon falls back into a routine and, to his surprise, he doesn’t feel like he’s about to shatter. Not once. Yes, he still has bad days and they probably slightly outnumber the good, and he’ll definitely be glad to leave high school behind when he graduates, but he doesn’t cry himself to sleep and he stops feeling numb for long periods of time.
He even makes it through the worst Thanksgiving of his life, sitting at the table and forcing small talk with his parents (Cooper conveniently unable to return from LA where he’s shooting his latest commercial). The turkey sort of tastes nice and his dad smiles when Blaine compliments him on it. It’s not an idyllic family holiday and when he gets off the phone that evening from his half-hour conversation with Kurt, he allows a few tears to escape onto his pillow before he forces himself to sit up and go back downstairs. He watches some lame movie with his mother and doesn’t get into bed until half ten—a late night for him. It only takes him a couple of hours to fall asleep, too, even if he has to clutch Margaret Thatcher Dog to his chest to do so.
It’s all fine, really, until his Christmas plans are shattered. He’s been looking forward to Christmas break for weeks, partly because it means no school for a while, but mostly because he gets to see Kurt. Then Kurt rings him up one night, the conversation drifting round to festive plans, and everything goes a little pear-shaped, Blaine’s steadily-expanding world squashed in a heartbeat.
“I’m not coming back to Ohio.” Kurt says the words in a rush, as if he didn’t want to let them out in the first place. When Blaine doesn’t say anything, he keeps going. “It’s just not possible to get more time off work—I tried, I really did— and I’m late on a couple of school assignments so I really need to get those sorted. I just can’t afford to fly back for two days in the middle of it all and I’m really, really sorry, Blaine. I’m desperate to see you, I promise, I miss you so much.”
Kurt’s voice cracks, but Blaine feels strangely calm as the words sink in. I’m not coming back.
“Ok…” Blaine says evenly, hand pushing an annoying curl back from his forehead. “That’s ok.”
“It’s not, Blaine, and I’m so sorry—”
“It’s not your fault.” Blaine cuts him off, unable to stand the despondency in his voice. “Does, um, does Burt know you’re not coming back?”
“Yeah, he…well, he’ll probably come to me for a few days—if he can get the time off at the shop!” Kurt adds, as if somehow Burt’s intention to visit makes him feel guilty. Blaine doesn’t see why, though; of course Burt Hummel would fly across the country to be with his son.
“Cool.” Blaine says, feeling tension leave his stomach, an emptiness left in its wake.
“Yeah.” Blaine glances around his room for inspiration. “Oh, weren’t you going to tell me about the new summer collection in the works?”
“Um, yes, I—yeah, I was.” Kurt doesn’t sound at all convinced by Blaine’s calm topic change, but he starts talking about Vogue.com anyway and Blaine just lets his voice pour over him, closing his eyes and trying not to drown.
When Kurt reluctantly hangs up twenty minutes later with promises to call the next day, Blaine breathes out in relief and sinks back into the mattress. The act is over, but he still feels like he’s in someone else’s body. Each time he thinks he’s going to get his own skin back, it distorts into shrunken rubber and he’s a balloon once more. He can feel himself lifting off the ground again, string slipping through everyone’s lacklustre fingers and zigzagging into the night.
He’s right back to square one after that; he can’t sleep again and his appetite drops, everything becoming inanely pointless. He doesn’t want people to catch on, though, especially when his mom’s been so happy with him lately. He doesn’t want to see the disappointment on her face when she realises that it’s not going to get better; Blaine is stuck in some stupid, maddening circle that always leads him right back here and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
So he gets good at hiding hollowness behind feigned interest and fake smiles. It’s not hard; he’s been perfecting them for the better half of his life. No, the only tricky part is his nightly phone call with Kurt, who is far more perceptive than anyone else—or maybe it’s just harder to act when the audience cannot see your face. He notices straight away when Blaine sounds off, when his performance starts to flag after a long, exhausting day of pretending. Kurt’s voice does that thing where he sounds concerned with an undertone of fear—he’s still afraid of you, Blaine—and he always makes up ridiculous excuses to keep Blaine on the line longer. The one small blessing is that he doesn’t rat Blaine out to his mother. He’s not entirely sure who created the diaphanous bubble that surrounds her at the moment, but he knows he cannot be the one to rupture it.
He feels trapped, like everything is imploding inwards in slow-motion and he’s just stood there, transfixed by the beauty of the dust particles, unaware that everything is self-destructing besides from a strange sense of claustrophobia. Except part of him does notice the demolition; sometimes the numbness he clings onto isn’t enough. Sometimes he locks himself in a bathroom stall halfway through class and allows the dust inside to pour out through his tears, or he waits for his father to be at work and his mom to have popped out to the shop and screams at the ceiling. He feels sorry for his ceiling, to be honest. It’s so white and guiltless, yet Blaine still insists on hurling blame at it—blame that he knows belongs to him and him alone.
The thing is, he doesn’t understand how he became so trapped in this cycle in the first place. He knows what everyone thinks, he can hear their whispers; they all believe that the break-up destroyed him, that he brought it on himself and then couldn’t reap the consequences. But he can’t remember it being like that—the numbness started before then, although he can’t for the life of him place his finger on an exact date. He doesn’t think there is one; he hasn’t been damaged by a single emotion or event, but rather the damage has prevented him from dealing with them. In fact, he feels strangely detached from everything that’s happened in the past few months, as if he’s just an understudy in someone else’s life.
He has become used to setbacks while growing up, knows the feeling of devastation when he lets everyone, including himself, down. He used to promise himself that he would become stronger than the thing that set him back, that one day he would laugh when someone mentioned it because he would be so far above it all. The setback would become the one in the wrong, not him. Lately, he’s discovered he can no longer do this. He finds it hard to pick himself back up again, not because of the setback like everyone immediately assumes, but because he has no hope of overcoming it. He has no hope in himself.
He wishes he was invisible because the pretending is exhausting. He wishes tears were imperceptible so he could cry all day and no one would ask meaningless questions: Why are you crying? Why are you crying? Why are you crying? He can hide himself from them and they don’t look too closely, but it’s just a lot of effort. Too much effort.
One evening he finds himself sat on his bedroom floor, fingers of his right hand curled around a fresh bottle of sleeping pills, not sure whether they belong to his mother or his father. He opens the cap, ears buzzing at the satisfying ‘pop’ sound it makes, and tries to tip a pill onto his palm. Except it won’t drop down, so he tilts the bottle further, coaxing the little white disc out from where it’s caught on the edging. In a sudden surge of muted frustration, he gives the bottle a shake and, before he can stop them, dozens of pills tumble out, most of them missing his palm and ensconcing themselves on the carpet.
“Fuck,” He swears under his breath, hand clenching around the practically empty bottle and then, suddenly, he feels his eyes widen, eyelashes curiously wet as they blink in shock. He freezes and then throws the bottle away from him; it doesn’t make it very far but the dull thud is enough to make him jump to his feet. He can’t do this. Not again.
He sets about replacing the pills in the bottle, fetching the hoover from the closet under the stairs for good measure, and then grabs his phone. His heart is pounding too fast, but he needs the sound to keep communicating to him as he taps the number onto the screen. The call is picked up after two rings.
“I…don’t think…I’m okay.” He croaks out and lets Dr Marissa talk at him, allows his words to make sense inside his head and follows his instructions to write down an appointment. He breathes a sigh of relief; Dr Marissa has caught the end of the string and is guiding him out of the wind.
No, he thinks as embers glow inside—not quite a fire yet, but kindling—you caught the string yourself this time.