It turns out that the only thing more frightening than Cooper being completely in love with himself is Cooper being completely in love with somebody else.
Maybe it’s strange that Blaine hasn’t met Emily before now, home for spring break during his first year of college, but he’s been at school in New York and she and Cooper have been chasing the scent of success all over Los Angeles. He’s heard a lot about her, of course, most notably she’s a model, Blaine over and over again, and she certainly is very pretty with her long dark hair and high cheekbones. Blaine knows now that she’s appeared in three Farm and Fleet catalogs, that she moved to L.A. two years ago, and that she and Cooper met in the restaurant where she waits tables. He’s also coming to understand that Cooper will do everything in his power to give her anything she asks for. Anything.
Which, currently, is blueberry flavored frosting.
They’re sitting in a small room at The Sweet Life — Cooper and Blaine and their mother and Emily — sampling slices of wedding cake while the owner of the shop waits expectantly nearby. Emily has a forkful of lemon sour cream cake in one hand and a laminated list of cake options in the other when she says, “You know what would be delicious with this? The blueberry infused buttercream frosting.”
While most people might do what Blaine and his mother do — make quiet, polite noises of acknowledgement or agreement — Cooper’s eyes light up. “What a wonderful idea, honey! Can we try that?” He swings to face the owner, an anxious man by the name of Mr. Spencer.
“Oh! Well! I’m afraid that wasn’t on the list of samples you requested when you made the appointment,” he says with a smile that looks more like a wince.
“Don’t you have some in the back?” Cooper asks, waving a hand airily in the direction of the kitchen.
Mr. Spencer shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “I’m afraid it’s not a standard flavor, so I don’t generally make it every day, no.”
Cooper hums. “Well, that really is too bad. My Emily loves blueberries, and I’m sure we can find someone else who would be only too happy to let her sample whatever frosting she wants…”
Blaine groans and buries himself in his taster slice of chocolate fudge with coconut pecan filling. He’s really just here for the cake samples, but he’s starting to think that even getting to try The Sweet Life’s finest free of charge isn’t worth being a part of this display. Cooper is fresh off a wave of success — his episode of The Walking Dead had aired less than three weeks prior, a fact that he hasn’t stopped throwing in poor Mr. Spencer’s face since they arrived. It’s a bit part, Blaine! A speaking role, he’d said, and although Blaine still isn’t sure that garbled, inhuman moans count as speaking, he’d tuned in to watch as a zombified Cooper tried to attack one of the main characters and took a shotgun blast to the face.
Mr. Spencer had made the mistake of professing his love for the show upon their arrival, but had admitted that he didn’t recognize Cooper. “Of course you don’t,” Cooper replied smoothly, and then added, as though he was revealing a grave secret while simultaneously pointing out something that should have been perfectly obvious, “I was in zombie makeup.”
Now, Mr. Spencer hurries to the door of the sitting room and shouts, “Kurt! Kurt, can I see you in here for a moment?”
After a few seconds, a young man appears, and Blaine’s next bite of cake falls abruptly off his fork, jolted off when his hand freezes halfway to his mouth. The man — Kurt — has beautiful hair and skin and eyes. He’s lean, and his apron makes his waist look slim and his shoulders look broad. “Yes?” he asks, sounding equal parts annoyed and confused, his voice high and clear.
“Do we have any of the blueberry frosting in the back?” Mr. Spencer asks, as though he doesn’t already know what the answer is going to be.
A tiny crease appears on Kurt’s forehead. “No,” he responds, his voice cautious, like he wants to say more but he can’t.
“Could you please mix some up? Quickly?”
That makes Kurt’s eyebrows quirk up a fraction of an inch, and Blaine realizes he’s staring, fascinated by the subtle but oh-so-telling shifts of expression. “I’m right in the middle of making the cookies for the Zimmermans’ order —”
“Yes, yes, you can put that dough right into the refrigerator. It will keep just fine. This is a priority.”
Kurt’s eyes run around the room then, all the way from Cooper’s Cheshire-cat grin to Blaine’s embarrassed, twitching face. He’s trying to smile, but he just wants to avert his eyes. It is his spring break, after all, so he’s been taking advantage of every opportunity to sleep late. As a result, his hair is a mess, and instead of wearing anything that looks decent, he’s in a faded Dalton Academy fencing t-shirt, even though he graduated months ago. Oh god, what if he assumes that I’m still in high school?
Blaine does think that Kurt lingers on him for just a moment, but when he turns back to Mr. Spencer, his face clearly shows that he doesn’t know why he’s being asked to rearrange what he’s doing just for them. Blaine’s pretty sure that it has something to do with the pages that Emily has cut out of magazines — this is most likely going to be the biggest, most expensive cake (well, series of cakes, really) that Mr. Spencer will be asked to make in a year. Blaine’s father has given Cooper an extravagant tab for the wedding, and Blaine has the impression that Emily’s family has also contributed generously to the cause.
“Of course,” is all Kurt says, but he doesn’t sound thrilled about it.
“Maybe you can put it on the unfrosted lemon poppy seed cake I made earlier?” Mr. Spencer suggests in an extremely pointed manner.
“The unfrosted…” Kurt starts, and then a put-upon look settles over his face. “Right. I’ll do that.” Blaine suddenly envisions Kurt scraping perfectly good frosting off an already-completed cake and fights the urge to throw his fork straight at his brother, who is giving Kurt a smug oh, thank you so much while he squeezes Emily’s shoulder.
Blaine has to tune him out after that, because sometimes the only way to deal with being Cooper Anderson’s brother is to ignore his existence completely. So he scrapes all the leftover frosting off his plate with the edge of his fork, sucks it into his mouth, and pays no attention to the conversation Cooper and Emily are having with Mr. Spencer about decorations and display tables and just how much this monstrosity is going to cost. He snags the cake menu off the table and pretends to read it while he muses about Kurt.
Blaine guesses that he’s gay, but he might not be, and Blaine doesn’t want to make any assumptions. It probably doesn’t matter — surely someone like that would have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend) if he wanted one. Maybe he doesn’t want one. But even that thought doesn’t stop Blaine from wondering what he’s like, where he’s from, whether or not it’s his life’s dream to become a successful bakery chef, and if it is, would that mean that Blaine would get free, top-quality baked goods for the rest of his life if they got married? He would definitely need to start working out more. Blaine Anderson, you are so far ahead of yourself that if you turned around, you wouldn’t even be a speck on the horizon.
This proves only too true when Kurt does reappear, almost half an hour later, bearing four fresh slices of cake. Blaine is fairly sure that no matter how heartfelt the glance that accompanies his quiet thank you is, it doesn’t really convey I think you are very handsome and I would like to get to know you better. Because even though he thinks that Kurt holds his eye for a beat longer than necessary, it all still ends with Kurt turning briskly away and asking Mr. Spencer if he needs anything else.
When Mr. Spencer says no, Kurt announces, “Anita’s leaving for lunch, so I’ll man the counter. Let me know if you need me,” before he sweeps out of the room.
So, Blaine’s going to have to talk to him. Without an audience, if possible. The thought makes him wish that he hadn’t eaten quite so much cake, because it’s sitting like a sickly, sugary lump in his nervous stomach.
“Mr. Spencer?” Blaine asks when it seems like things are winding down. “Is there a restroom here that I can use?”
“Of course,” Mr. Spencer says, the strain of the morning evident in his voice. “Just go out the door and turn left. It’s past the counter. You can’t miss it.”
Past the counter, Blaine thinks. This is good. That means that he’s way less likely to chicken out entirely. He thanks Mr. Spencer and takes a deep breath as he makes his way out of the room.
Kurt is waiting on a customer, and there’s another one in line behind him, a woman holding the hand of a girl with bright-blonde hair who’s pointing excitedly at the rows of cupcakes behind the glass. Blaine gulps and, after one strange stuttering step toward the counter, makes tracks for the bathroom.
When he emerges again, he’s fresh off four minutes of lamenting his appearance in the mirror, which is not improved when he wrinkles his nose at the scent of stale air freshener permeating the room. He’s never really done the walking-up-to-someone-he-barely-knows thing before — at least not with a show choir behind him, and he can’t help but shudder at that memory — and he’s surprised at how nerve-wracking it is. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the last few months have taken their toll on his self-confidence, he reasons.
So he straightens his spine and walks back into the bakery just as the woman ushers the girl — face already smeared with chocolate — out the front door. Kurt glances over at him, and Blaine gives him a tiny smile and almost veers right back into the room where his family is waiting. He pauses for just long enough that it feels awkward, and then approaches the counter anyway.
“Hi,” Kurt says as Blaine draws closer. “How can I help you? Is there another kind of frosting you want to sample?”
Blaine can hear the wryness in his voice even though Kurt maintains a veneer of perfect politeness, and he finds himself stammering a little. “No! No. It was nice of you to make the blueberry though. I appreciate it. Um, we all do. It was delicious.”
Kurt looks slightly mollified. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Blaine says, and he smiles.
There’s a pause that’s odd and distinct. Kurt watches him, the corner of his mouth curling up for a just a second, before he clears his throat. “So, can I help you?”
“Right!” Blaine exclaims. “Yes. Um…” He shoots a look down at the display case, making a mental note to come up with an excuse beforehand if this doesn’t work out and he ever has to submit to this torture again. “Muffins. I wanted to grab a couple of muffins for breakfast tomorrow.”
“Great.” Kurt rustles open a bag and slides the door of the case open. “What can I get you?”
“What do you recommend?” Blaine asks, his eyes restlessly scanning the selection.
“Oh, well, our banana nut and zucchini nut muffins are both good, and so are the apple spice. If you liked the cake, we have some lemon poppy seed today. I’m not sure if you like rhubarb or not, but Mr. Spencer finally let me try out a rhubarb muffin recipe —”
“Those,” Blaine says immediately.
“Rhubarb fan?” Kurt inquires, his eyebrow arching as he scoops a muffin out of the case and nestles it into the bag.
“I don’t know.” Blaine laughs and ducks his head briefly. “I’ve never tried it.”
Kurt’s face does another one of those tiny shifts, and his teeth find the edge of his lips for just a moment. “Oh,” he says, and clears his throat quietly. “How many would you like?”
“Um, I’ll take two of those, two banana nut, and two lemon poppy seed.”
“You got it.” As he busies himself assembling the order, Kurt asks, “So, Mr. Spencer tells me that someone in your group is famous, but I’m afraid I don’t recognize any of you.”
It’s not a subject that Blaine really wants to delve into, but he doesn’t want to be rude. “Do you watch The Walking Dead?”
“No, I mostly watch reality TV,” Kurt says, like it’s a challenge and an admission, “and movies.”
“Me too!” Blaine exclaims as his heart trills a little in his chest, and he does not imagine cuddling up to watch Cupcake Wars — or maybe Kurt wouldn’t want to watch something that reminds him of his job? Anyway, there’s a small smile on Kurt’s face now, and Blaine has to force himself to remember what they were talking about in the first place. “Anyway, that’s okay. You wouldn’t have recognized him in that. What about — free credit rating dot com… slash savings,” he sings, ending with a subdued flourish.
Recognition lights up Kurt’s face at that. “Oh, yeah! I remember those commercials.”
Blaine smiles, but it feels tight on his face. “Well, that’s my brother.”
“Huh,” Kurt says. “He seemed different on TV.”
“That’s because he was trying to sell you something,” Blaine responds before he can help himself. His eyes widen as soon as the words are out. “I mean —”
But Kurt is smirking. “That’ll be ten ninety-nine,” he interrupts, passing the bag across the counter.
While Blaine fishes a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet, he searches desperately for ways to keep the conversation alive. “So,” he asks finally, “do you go to culinary school?”
“Me? No, no,” Kurt says, punching a few keys on the cash register. “I needed a job, and Mr. Spencer is a friend of a friend of my stepmother’s. I’ve always been handy in the kitchen, so I thought I’d give it a try.” He gestures to the bag of muffins. “I’d take those out of the bag if you’re not going to eat them until tomorrow. Either cover them with a towel on your counter or put them in an airtight container with some paper towels to keep them fresh.”
“Thanks,” Blaine says, happily accepting his change and the slight brush of Kurt’s fingers that came with it.
“You’ll have to let me know how they are.” Kurt nods toward the bag now clasped in Blaine’s damp hands. “Muffins are hard to get just right.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice afternoon.”
They’re still watching each other as Blaine takes the first few steps away from the counter backwards. When he turns, he finds his family waiting at the door to the tasting room, Cooper eying him speculatively.
Once they’re outside in the parking lot, Cooper slides his sunglasses on and slings an arm over Blaine’s shoulder, which Blaine shrugs off because he’s still irritated. Cooper is undeterred. “Did you like him?” Emily is leaning around him while they walk, and Blaine can see her raised eyebrows over the rims of her own sunglasses. His mother isn’t paying any attention as she walks a few steps ahead and chats on her cell phone in animated fashion.
“No,” Blaine says petulantly.
“You like him,” Cooper declares. “You should ask him out.”
“I don’t even know if he’s gay,” Blaine reasons, although he doesn’t have as much doubt on that score as he once did. They’d been flirting a little, hadn’t they?
Cooper handwaves his excuse. “He’s gay.”
Blaine glances over at him suspiciously. “Cooper, if you’re saying that just because of the way he looked or sounded —”
“Relax,” Cooper cuts him off. “I work in the industry, Blaine. My gaydar is exceptional. He’s gay, and you like him, and you should go back in there and ask him out.”
Blaine wants to argue the point, but it’s true. Cooper’s gaydar is freakishly accurate. Even though Blaine is fairly certain that the shock of his coming out had taken years off his parents’ lives, Cooper hadn’t been even the least bit surprised. “I’m only here until the end of the week,” he finally protests, his voice lacking sufficient heat.
There’s no way to tell, but he thinks that Cooper is side-eying him through his mirrored lenses. “Blaine, it’s been months since the breakup.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Blaine protests, and Cooper gives a thoughtful hum.
Blaine’s mother turns suddenly, cocking her phone away from her mouth. “Emily, look at that blouse.” She gestures to a storefront across the street. “You would look lovely in that color, dear.”
Emily drops Cooper’s hand at once. “Let’s go look at it!” she exclaims, already leading the way across the street as she shoots a significant look at Blaine and Cooper over her shoulder.
Cooper ambles toward a bench, and when he reaches it, he turns to Blaine and snaps his fingers. “I know! I could get him an agent!”
“Not everyone wants an agent, Cooper,” Blaine says with a roll of his eyes. He’s pretty sure that Cooper just acted at him.
“Are you kidding?” Cooper asks. “That guy was practically crying out for one.”
Blaine squints at him as he drops down onto the bench. “I can’t decide whether or not you’re being offensive right now,” he finally admits.
“Offensive? No! I’m being opportunistic. Huge difference.” Cooper beams at him.
“Cooper, I really don’t think —”
He’s interrupted by Cooper’s sharp, “No. Listen to me. Sometimes you just have to grab the bull by the horns. Do you think I would have gotten a callback for that Fresh Step commercial if I hadn’t taken advantage of every opportunity that presented itself?”
“I don’t know if opportunistic is really the right word for that.”
“Well, I still maintain that I found that cat on the way to the audition.”
Blaine sighs and scans the sky overhead as though the passing clouds might save him from hearing this particular pep talk again. “Then why did you have a carrier?”
“I didn’t,” Cooper replies easily. “I bought it after I found the cat.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you brought a cat to an audition for a kitty litter commercial.”
“Blaine, Blaine, Blaine. Commercial acting is all about living the reality of the character you’re portraying. I had to make them believe I could be a cat owner. Mittens stumbled into my path at exactly the right moment, and you know what? I seized that opportunity. Besides, did you want me to let him starve to death in the street?”
“Obviously not,” Blaine mumbles.
“And now Mittens has a very nice home with one of Emily’s friends, and in the end, I got the callback based on my talent. No one could have possibly made cleaning that litter box look easier and less disgusting than I did.”
“He should have gotten the part,” Emily says, appearing suddenly on Blaine’s other side. “He read the line for me, and it almost made me wish I wasn’t allergic so that I could have a cat to clean up after.”
“I still think there was something going on between the casting director and that woman who got it,” Cooper grumbles. Then he brightens considerably and points at Blaine. “Just like there should be something going on between Blainey and the bakery guy!”
“Look, I’ll think about it, okay?” Blaine pleads.
“That’s Blaine code for I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Cooper says.
“That’s everyone code for I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Blaine mutters.
Blaine’s mother interrupts them all. “Our meeting with the caterer is in less than an hour,” she points out. “We have to get a move on.”
In the car on the way home, Blaine is too stuffed full of cake and residual nerves to even consider eating a whole muffin. He does, however, reach down into the bag, break off a chunk of the rhubarb, and pop it into his mouth. It’s tart and sweet at the same time, with a crispy, sugary crumble on top, and the texture is perfect.
Somehow, the days pass and he’s back at school and he finds that he never told Kurt that. I’m leaving town in a few days and so are you. It’s just not worth it, he tells the butterflies in his stomach every time he thinks about going back.
Still, when he’s unpacking his clothes into the tiny closet in his dorm room, he wishes he would have.
Blaine tries not to dwell too much on the missed opportunity. Before he knows it, he’s swept up in the last few weeks of school before the summer break, full of tests and papers and performances, the last time going here or there with his friends until they reconvene in the fall. Then he’s home and Cooper’s wedding is less than a month away, but first they have to hold a small, tasteful gathering for their mother’s forty-fifth birthday.
For which they need a cake. One that Blaine hastily volunteers to order. For once in his life, Cooper decides — wisely — not to say a word, even though the look on his face shows that he clearly wants to.
Blaine is perfectly aware that he could call in the order. There’s really no reason to go to The Sweet Life to place it, but he has a summer job right down the street now and it’s just as convenient to stop in.
Unfortunately, when he walks in, almost shaking with nerves — what if Kurt doesn’t want to see him again? Blaine thinks Kurt could be mad and that he might deserve it — Anita is behind the counter reading a book and the rest of the bakery seems deserted. Still, he can’t help the way his eyes dart around as she takes down his order (a large sheet cake, frosted in buttercream with flowers and flowing script in his mother’s favorite colors), and finally she asks, “Are you looking for someone in particular? Mr. Spencer is in the back in his office, but I can get him if you’d rather speak with him about your order.”
“No,” Blaine says quickly, looking down at his hands clenched lightly together on the countertop. “No, thank you.”
When he glances back up, Anita has a look of dawning realization on her face and he feels his own start to heat. “Kurt’s not here,” she says, and Blaine forces himself not to let his disappointment show. Anita nods briskly and jots a few more notes on the order form. “Your cake will be ready on Friday. I recommend that you pick it up between one o’clock and close.”
Still feeling gawky, Blaine thanks her and beats a hasty retreat.
But no amount of embarrassment can keep him from following her instructions to the letter, and when he walks into the bakery at one thirty-five on Friday, he finds Kurt behind the counter, boxing up a dozen cookies for an elderly man with an ornate cane. He glances briefly over at Blaine when he enters, and Blaine didn’t miss the way his eyebrows shoot up, even though Kurt buries the expression quickly as he turns back to the customer to collect his payment.
As soon as the old man shuffles far enough away, Blaine approaches him, hoping that his eyes don’t look as wide as they feel. It’s just — the little things, he realizes, like how he remembered the color of Kurt’s eyes but not the exact (exquisite) shape. Blaine forces a wobbling smile onto his face as Kurt says, “Hi.”
“Hi,” he replies.
There is a moment of silence, and just when Blaine gets worried that it’s going to balloon into something unmanageable, Kurt speaks again.
“Long time no see,” he says, and then quickly presses his lips together. He looks rather unimpressed.
It spurs Blaine to start babbling. “Oh! I was just home for spring break last time, so I wasn’t here for very long.”
“I see,” Kurt says neutrally.
“I’m back for good now, though. Well, no, not for good, but for the summer. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I just wanted to make sure you knew that they were good.”
“What were?” Kurt asks, his brows drawing down over his eyes, but he looks more confused than angry.
“The muffins. You wanted me to let you know if I liked them. I did. They were delicious. Perfect, really.”
It’s hard to tell, but it looks like Kurt is actually on the verge of smiling now. “Thank you,” he says, and his voice is definitely warmer than it was before. Blaine beams in response, and Kurt’s expression softens before he clears his throat and asks, “How can I help you today? I’m afraid we don’t have any rhubarb muffins. Can I interest you in orange cranberry?”
Blaine is fairly sure that Kurt could interest him in just about anything at this point, but he does suddenly remember that he’s there for a reason. “That sounds delicious, but actually, I’m here to pick up a cake for Blaine Anderson.”
Kurt looks at him curiously. “Is that — you? You’re Blaine?”
Blaine barely manages to refrain from slapping his hand to his forehead. “Yes. That’s me. Blaine Anderson. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m Kurt Hummel. And likewise.” With an enigmatic smile, Kurt disappears into the kitchen. During his absence, Blaine forces himself not to fidget, to stand still at the counter like any other customer might — any customer who was taking deep, measured breaths and staring at a plate of snickerdoodles.
When Kurt reappears, he slides the long, flat box he’s carrying onto the counter and lifts the lid. “Everything look okay?”
For just a second, Blaine considers leaning across on his elbow, staring at Kurt, and saying something like everything looks amazing in a low voice, but he squashes the urge immediately. Instead, he looks down at the cake and says, “Looks… just great. Did you do this?”
“No way,” Kurt says with a chuckle. “Mr. Spencer made it very clear that he’s the only one who’s permitted to work on special order cakes for your family.” He slides the sales slip across the counter.
Blaine rolls his eyes as he fumbles for his wallet, because somehow Cooper has actually managed to convince someone that his family should be treated like royalty, but then notices Kurt sliding open the display case and reaching for a bag. He gives Kurt a quizzical smile. “What are you doing?”
“Orange cranberry muffin,” Kurt says, sliding one into the bag and rolling down the top.
“How much do I need to add…?” Blaine starts to ask, pulling another bill out of his wallet, but Kurt waves him off.
“On the house,” he announces, setting the bag on top of the cake box.
“You don’t have to do that!” Blaine exclaims.
Kurt shakes his head a little. “I know I don’t have to, but here at The Sweet Life, we like to express our gratitude for our loyal customers. In hopes that we’ll see them again.” He’s not exactly meeting Blaine’s eyes now and his cheeks are pinking.
Blaine’s heart stutter-steps, and he stumbles out, “Oh! Well… you should let me pay you back.”
Kurt looks back up, confusion on his face, which is starting to fall.
“With coffee!” Blaine is quick to add. “I work at The Mug Shot. It’s about two blocks down?” He flicks his hand in the general direction of the coffee shop, and continues when Kurt nods. “I’ll be there until eight tonight. If you, um, if you want to come by after you close up here, I can offer you something in exchange, like maybe a…” he trails off, raising his eyebrows at Kurt.
“Grande nonfat mocha?” Kurt suggests, and he’s smiling in earnest now and his eyes are all lit up and happy.
“It would only be fair,” Blaine concludes.
“Okay,” Kurt says. “Six-thirty. I’ll be there around six-thirty.”
“Okay.” Blaine knows his face must be ridiculous as he eases the cake off the counter, but he can’t bring himself to care. “I’ll see you then.”
Back in the car, after Blaine has settled the cake in the backseat, Cooper glances over at him. “I’d ask how it went, but all I need to do is look at your face, Squirt.”
“Don’t call me that,” Blaine says, but there’s no bite in his voice. He curls his hands around the top of the bakery bag and doesn’t even try to stop grinning.
Cooper laughs and puts the car in gear. “Well, maybe you’ll have a date for the wedding after all.”
Blaine just keeps smiling as they pull into traffic. “Maybe.”
It could have happened that way. But it didn’t.