when the world comes in (they come to build a wall between us) [1/?] | gossip girl. dan/blair.
He decides this summer will be anything but unusual. ϟ 2,873 words.
The summer of 1987 is hot and sticky and disgusting, like the city.
Dan is unfazed, as per usual. His summer will consist of skulking around coffee shops and barely making rent, identical to the seasons before it.
Jenny calls once, twice, three times on the first day of the first heat wave. Rufus used to call too. It’s a phase, one she’ll grow out of as neatly (or perhaps not – their family has always been a disaster) as their father did.
Time is measured out in the number of words he can write in one sitting. One, two, three tries – then a cigarette break.
He decides this summer will be anything but unusual.
The humidity makes his lungs feel as if they’re drowned in tar, and yet he can’t resist taking that next drag. He hates smoking, but sees no reason to quit. At this point, he’s told motivation and his friend determination to fuck off.
Then it happens.
The girl stomps out of the strip club so conveniently rubbed up against the coffee shop where he’s spent his time all week – partly because the employees don’t care if he doesn’t order anything (unsurprisingly, he never does) and the other part due to the fact that he hasn’t had power in a week. Whether he hasn’t paid the bill or the landlord just doesn’t give a shit, he doesn’t know and doesn’t care.
He’s back to the girl again. It’s as if she’s convinced that with a huff and a puff she’ll bring the whole goddamn city down. She wrestles a pack of smokes from her pocket, snatching one from the box and stuffing it back into her jeans. She forces the cigarette between her gritting teeth, only to remove it moments later. Her eyes wander to him for a split second, a fierce anger in them.
“Fucking hell,” the first words she speaks to him. Then she really doesn’t speak to him at all, only mutters to herself in order to bring some menial satisfaction. “Prick hits on me for an hour then stiffs me.”
“Excuse me?” the first words he speaks to her.
“None of your business.” She’s glaring at him now, and he’s half-convinced she’s now focused on honing the skill to legitimately kill someone with a look.
It’s silent for a while. In the corner of his eye he can see her twirl her cigarette between her fingers.
Finally, more words. “Can I borrow your lighter?”
He doesn’t hesitate in pulling it out from his pocket, handing it to her. She snatches it, placing the cig between her teeth again and lighting the end. Without bothering to make eye contact with him, she shoves the lighter towards his chest.
“For a minute there, I thought you were going for some ironic statement,” he attempts to break the ice, though he’s not sure why. He spends his days writing about people and yet finds very few, if any, remotely interesting and fewer he would like to hold a conversation with. She glares at him again, and though she doesn’t seem puzzled by his statement, he finds the need to explain. “Y’know, challenging the killer and giving it no opportunity to –“
She raises her hand to stop him. “I know what irony is, thanks.” Her tone is icy. WASP-y, he concludes, though he’s not sure how that works out, considering she doesn’t seem to have enough cash to be that uppity. She lets out a sound between psh and a sigh before adding, “I should’ve known you were a writer.”
He doesn’t respond to that, mostly because he’s unsure whether he should be pleased for being so easily recognized or outraged because he’s been identified as the stereotypical East Village artist (and though he probably is one, no artist from around here – least of all him – want to hear as much from someone else’s mouth.)
“And you work here,” he states the obvious because the conversation is clearly going nowhere.
She narrows her eyes. “And you must think I’m a stripper.” She puts her hands on her hips then, incredulous. “Tell me, when have you ever seen a stripper with this many articles of clothing on?”
“Uh,” he feels sufficiently awkward now. “Never said you were one.”
She rolls her eyes as if his prior statement had actually given that implication. Taking a drag, she blows the smoke out into the thick summer air, which swallows it up into nonexistence. It’s a common thing in this city, he’s realized – at the end of the day, no one knows you but you. “I’m a waitress. Crap pay and crap tips. It works out so well.”
He has some sort of social deficiency that doesn’t allow him to respond to the statement put forth by the person he’s having a conversation with, so he decides to introduce himself. “I’m Dan.” He extends his hand as a courteous gesture. Dan has never been a gregarious human being – pretentious artists never are – but there’s something about her, and not even he can pin it down, though as a writer he attempts to convince himself that he can has gotten the human condition down to an exact science; one tablespoon paranoia, two tablespoons depression, three tablespoons of awareness of one’s mortality.
She stares at his extended hand as if he’s diseased, then ever so slightly lifts her nose up into the air in quiet refusal. “Thanks for the light,” she says, and then she’s gone, disappeared into the abyss that Dan knows he isn’t brave enough to follow her into.
Carter Baizen is the designated drug dealer for Avenues A through D. It’s undisputed territory and has been since he came onto the scene, though there is nothing even remotely threatening about him or his goonies that do all the dirty work for him.
The first day of the second heat wave is an unlucky one for him, as it’s one of the few in which he encounters Carter. It’s been a while, almost a year, and while they’re anything but strangers, they certainly act as if they are.
He gives Carter a curt nod before continuing down the sidewalk, then is stopped by the supposed stranger’s arm.
“How’s Jenny?” If Carter is anything, he’s vindictive. Dan knows this, and yet, he continues to be easily provoked.
“Go fuck yourself,” the only three words he’ll contribute to the conversation. He starts walking again.
“I just thought I’d let you know that her replacement is perfect,” he’s calling out to him now, not compelled to follow. “Serena – leggier, blonder. Jenny 2.0, if you will. She works at Symphonica, in case you wanted to play the failed hero again.”
Dan’s jaw tightens, but he doesn’t stop and he doesn’t turn around. He can’t. Not again.
Symphonica is the strip club next to the coffee shop Dan has apparently chosen to spend his time this summer. Its name is much more attractive to him than anything that goes on inside. It’s owned by some Upper East Side tycoon who was looking to profit on the debauchery occurring on the other end of the island. The same old trick – making sure the poor and disgusting stay poor and disgusting.
It also happens to be the place where the mysterious girl he met works.
In all the years that he’s had the opportunity to venture inside (four since he’d been able to pass as legal, two since he actually turned twenty-one) he’s never been interested – until now.
Just as he expected, it resembles much of what he expects the seventh circle of hell to be like, except a bit more dirty with the smell of desperation and self-pity.
The first person he recognizes is Nate, who is carelessly mixing drinks behind the bar. He makes a beeline for him, though they’ve hardly said a dozen words to each other in the five years they’ve lived in the same building, none of them being meaningful.
As he takes his seat in front of him, he begins the conversation. “Uh, I didn’t know you were a bartender.”
“And I didn’t know you were a –“ his eyes are slits when he looks up from his mix and at him. “Oh, wait – what exactly do you do?” Dan can respect the sarcasm dripping from his words.
“I’m a freelance writer.”
“So you’re unemployed,” he responds immediately, and Dan realizes he’s far more deductive of people’s true natures than he ever could have realized. Perhaps it was the pretty face, but Dan always got the idea that Nate was a blithering idiot, just like all the people who would never look like they belonged in the hideous circumstances they were trapped in. A writer’s curse, he supposed – the inability to see the forest past the trees.
It was quiet for a while then, with only the loud music blaring from the speakers to quench him. Dan decides to look around then, immediately spotting the girl he’d had the most awkward and yet the most interesting conversation in his life with.
Nate had removed his attention from the conversation already, going back to the drink he was experimenting with. Dan reaches over to tap him on the shoulder and he lifts his face again, brows knitted and visibly annoyed. “What?”
Dan points at the girl. “Who’s that?”
Nate chuckles to himself then, going back to his drink as he answers the question. “That’s Blair. If you think you have a chance with her, you must be delusional.”
Dan is insulted by the insinuation that he was looking to get into her pants, rather than wanting to sit down and have coffee with her. But such was the way of the way the people in the neighborhood operated – suspicion, never trust. He doesn’t indicate that he’s irritated, but responds with a question. “And why is that?”
“Because she’s preoccupied with the owner’s brother.” He looks up to motion towards her again. “See for yourself.”
He looks again. She’s serving an older man now. He’s stroking her hand in what seems to be reassurance, and while she’s not pulling away, she certainly doesn’t seem interested.
Nate snorts. “Plus, she’s not really into the starving artist type anyway.”
Dan rolls his eyes, completely aware he was unprepared to have such a frank conversation. “Okay then. Nice talking to you – or not so nice; whatever this was.” He waves Nate away as he leaves his seat, fully prepared to leave until he hears the cheers.
He turns. Carter’s new victim, in the flesh. Except here her name is Candy and though she looks both dead and alive in the eyes, she has a certain determination to carry on that no one flinging their singles at her notices.
But Dan does. He’d know that look anywhere.
He then has one of those moments when he knows someone is looking at him. The girl – Blair – is, her eyes a pool of anger and resentment, yet so knowing and calm. Tranquil.
She understands. He doesn’t know why, but she does.
She’s at the coffee shop the next day, all sass and no courtesy. Very particular about her order, and very much aware of the fact that she can boss the barista around as much as she wants – she is the only paying customer in the shop, after all.
She stops on the way to her table when she catches his eye, and then she’s walking over to him.
“I’d say this is a coincidence, but – “ he starts.
“Actually, it isn’t. I thought you would be here.” She shrugs. He’s come to the conclusion that she’ll be cutting him off during conversation quite often. Having the upper hand seems relatively important to her. “I wanted to talk to you.”
He raises his eyebrow, completely befuddled. “Okay?” She seemed disgusted with his presence when they last talked, and suddenly she was so adamant about having a conversation with him. This was probably why he tended to avoid all human interaction.
“I’m just gonna – uh, go get a coffee.” He speeds past her to the counter. The barista furrows her brow at him, most likely wondering why he’s finally choosing to order something after spending weeks writing what has amount to a measly one hundred words but not buying anything. He pays with the crumpled bills in his pocket – the only cash he has to his name – but finds a need to discover some common ground with Blair (her name, though she doesn’t know he knows it; it feels off even thinking about it, as if he knows a secret she doesn’t), and overly expensive coffee seems to be the easy route. She’s already at a table by the time he turns to look for her. He makes a beeline for it, plopping down in the seat across from her. “So what did you want to talk about?”
She sips her coffee for a moment before answering. “Serena, actually,” she sighs. “I mean, the girl on stage last night –“
“Yeah, I know who she is.” This is probably the only opportunity he’ll have to cut her off, so he takes it.
A look of suspicion crosses her face. “How do you know her, exactly?”
He takes a deep breath and contemplates his response. It’s one of those things he doesn’t like to talk about. It’s nice never having to talk to people because no one is ever around to ask. “My sister’s a junkie.”
She seems slightly irritated for a moment because she doesn’t think he’s answered the question, but her face relaxes when it clicks. “Carter.”
He nods, casually drinking from his coffee and then setting it down again. “He was taunting me about it. I guess Serena is his new victim or something –“ He freezes, the epitome of embarrassed in that moment. “I’m sorry. You obviously know her and that was just a dick move –“
“It’s fine.” It’s a firm response, and he can tell that she means it. He relaxes. “To be honest, that’s what I think of their relationship too.”
“The look you gave me last night –“ Dan trips over his words then, attempting to avoid the implication that they shared some sort of intimate moment. “It’s just – I have my sister, and my dad too. Who do you know?”
She bites her lip and looks off into the distance for a few seconds, and during that time he realizes she feels the same way he does about admitting these things. He hasn’t talked to Jenny in months, Rufus in years, and yet he feels like he’s betraying them by divulging their most evident flaw – to a girl who’s pretty much a stranger, no less. They’re his family, and back when his dad wasn’t too far gone he used to say that they were supposed to defend each other, no matter what.
“Serena’s my best friend.” She’s not ashamed, but disappointed; her eyes say as much. “Or was, I guess. She doesn’t really talk much these days and even if she did, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to listen.”
Dan nods then, because he understands perfectly. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugs again. “No need to be sorry. I mean, we live here. It happens.”
These days, there were three possible options for someone who lived in Alphabet City – get famous, become a junkie, or drift. Watch. Exist. Going nowhere, getting nowhere, and aching for somewhere else.
She just watches him then. He knows he’s entranced in thought but he doesn’t care much; it happens often with hi, and if she was looking to carry a conversation with him, she would have to get used to it.
“I’m Blair, by the way.”
“I know that too,” he gives the faintest of smiles with his reply.
“Nate told you.” He nods, and she rolls her eyes in feigned annoyance. “I saw you talking to him. I’m surprised he told you; he usually plays the role of guard dog these days.”
“Maybe he likes me,” Dan is sure he doesn’t.
She gives him a look brimming with amusement. “Somehow I doubt that. He doesn’t really like anyone.” Nate is what Dan pretends to be – a self-made loner. It takes real skill, no doubts, and a hell of a lot of courage: three things Dan doesn’t possess.
Blair lifts her wrist, the watch on it catching the light. It’s gold, real gold, and Dan suddenly has so many questions but knows he won’t get any answers.
Looking at the time, she lets out a sigh of exasperation. “My shift is about to start.” She rises from her seat. “Um, thanks, I guess. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t some creep going after Serena.”
He raises his eyebrows, amused. “Oh. And what’s the verdict?”
She rolls her eyes again; he deduces that she does that a lot. “You’re in the clear, writer guy.” After tossing her coffee cup in the trash, she turns on her hell, her acid wash jeans crinkling slightly. Then she’s at the door, turning one last time. “See you around, maybe.” It’s not a question, but a statement, implying that she doesn’t care one way or the other.
With the jingle of the closing door, he realizes he’s completely screwed.