Title: Till There Was You
Pairing: Kris Allen/Adam Lambert
Notes: Written for fabfourfest for the song Till There Was You. Special thanks to poppetawoppet for creating this wonderful challenge, and a galaxy of love and gratitude to the fab idahophoenix for a most helpful, encouraging, and speedy beta.
Summary: Kris was lost in the stars. Till there was Adam.
“Well, well. Look who’s back again.”
From her perch behind the gift shop counter, Megan smirked at Allison, who was busy restocking packets of freeze-dried astronaut ice cream.
“Oh, yeah?” Allison stopped what she was doing to peer over a display of space rocks. She grinned when she spotted the target, a tall guy in a leather jacket. He glanced around the lobby hopefully, then shook his head slightly at his companion before he opened the planetarium door. “Yep, that’s him all right. What is this, third time this week?”
“Fourth.” Megan snapped her Juicy Fruit. “Got tattoo guy in tow again. He usually naps. Not tall dark and smitten, though. He stays wide awake. So ya think Kris will notice this time?”
“Notice what?” Kris asked absently as he came up behind her, balancing a stack of papers, a DVD case, a cup of coffee, and a headset. “Meg, here's that Cosmos DVD Ryder wanted to watch. Hey, do you think you guys could lock up after the Sunday show? I have to be at Leuschner at six.” He put the coffee on the counter and began scribbling numbers on a notepad.
“Sure, no problem.” Megan waited. “So don’t you want to know?”
“Hmm? Oh, sure.” Kris adjusted his glasses, looped the headset around his neck, and wandered off in the direction of the booth, still scribbling formulas on the pad. His coffee sat on the counter, forgotten.
Sasha signaled to them from the ticket booth. “Him again,” she mouthed to Megan and Allison while pointing at the auditorium door. “So cute!”
“Yeah.” Megan picked up the coffee. “Hey, Alli, watch the counter, I’ll just be a sec.”
She knocked on the door of the booth before she went in. Kris was sorting through his notes and Andrew was adjusting the sound board. “Java, baby.”
“Oh, thanks, Meg.” He took the cup, then turned to switch on a microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please make yourselves comfortable and take a moment to turn off any electronic devices. We enter outer space in five minutes.” At the sound of Kris’s voice, the tall guy sat up a little in his seat. His friend said something, and tall guy laughed and punched him playfully before settling back.
Kris switched off the microphone and turned around, surprised to find Megan still there. She closed the door behind her. “So here’s the thing. See the guy in row C? With the hair and all the gorgeous?” Kris looked. “So, he’s here like every time we crack the door, and he can’t take his eyes off you.” On cue, tall guy craned his neck in the direction of the booth.
“What?” Kris looked genuinely confused.
Megan spoke slowly. “He’s totally interested. And he’s adorable.” She looked at Kris expectantly.
“You...what? he repeated.
Exasperated, Megan literally threw up her hands before leaving. Back at the gift shop counter, she just shook her head. Allison sighed. “It’s all that physics and shit, turning his brain to mush.”
Inside, Kris turned to Andrew, who just shrugged and grinned. Kris looked at row C again and was met with a smile and a tentative wave.
“Umm. Wave back, dude,” Andrew counseled, but Kris just stared blankly for a moment, then picked up the script, switched on the mic, and started the show. Not that he even really needed the script at this point; he could lecture most of the programs in his sleep. Most days he did the show on autopilot, but today he kept glancing at row C, so he stumbled over a few parts. He noticed that the guy’s eyes were closed a lot of the time, but he didn’t appear to be asleep. There was a little smile on his face.
Kris had a pretty good view of the guy from his vantage point. He noticed that his legs, stretched out as he reclined in the tilted chair, were long. Really long. Or maybe that was just in comparison to the guy next to him, who was kind of tiny. The tiny guy was definitely fast asleep, mouth open and everything.
When the show was over, the tall guy gently shook the tiny guy awake. He looked in Kris’s direction, and when he saw Kris looking at him he gave him a big sunny smile. Kris jerked his eyes away and busied himself under the control board.
He stalled for a long time before leaving the booth. When he did, the lobby was empty. He pretended not to see Megan’s glare or Allison’s sad puppy look.
“He waited, you know. Waited and waited, and pretended to be all interested in the space rocks before his friend finally dragged him out. I heard him say his name.” Kris blinked. “It’s Adam.”
Kris rubbed his neck and thought, Adam.
Finally Megan softened somewhat. “Kris, honey. If you’re not into him, that’s fine. But we kind of worry about you, you know? You’ve been at Berkeley for a year, and working here for eight months, and between this job and your TA thing and studying and that research group, you never do anything that’s...fun! That guy, Adam, looks like he could be fun. Just...next time he comes, maybe you could try not to hide from him. Maybe even talk to him.”
Kris sighed. “Megan, you know I don’t have time to--”
“To be friendly? To say hi to someone? To be, like, a human instead of a physics robot? Nonsense. Anoop is a grad student, and he finds plenty of time to have fun.”
“Well, to be fair, Anoop’s major is folklore, not astrophysics,” Allison said.
“Oh, whatever. Promise you won’t hide next time.”
Out of a sense of self-preservation if nothing else, Kris promised.
But there wasn’t a next time.
A week passed; Adam didn’t come back to the planetarium.
Kris walked down the hall to his tiny office in Campbell, head down as usual. He carried the stack of papers he had graded for Astronomy 101, but his mind wasn’t really on the lecture he was about to assist. It was on the algorithm his fluid dynamics group was working on. He almost crashed head-on into an enormous walking bouquet of yellow roses. Papers went flying, and the bearer of the roses cried, “I’m so sorry! Here, let me help you....” The roses were placed against the wall, and as Kris scrambled about collecting papers, he noticed that he was being assisted by two hands with black-tipped fingernails and an array of silver rings.
“Thanks, man.” Kris reached out to take a stack of papers, and as he did he looked into a pair of shocked blue eyes.
“Oh!” The guy breathed. “It’s--you’re--I mean, I think I might have seen you. At, um, the planetarium?”
Kris stared dumbly.
The guy babbled on. “I went to the ‘concert under the stars’ feature thing, the night it was Queen?” The guy helpfully gestured to the faded Queen t-shirt he was wearing. “And then, it was so cool, you know, and interesting, that I went back and saw some of the lecture shows. Because they were cool. And…interesting.” The guy was definitely pink now.
“Oh.” Kris looked around, embarrassed by the guy’s embarrassment. His eyes fell on the rose arrangement, but he couldn’t think of a thing to say about that.
“Flowers. Yeah, I was looking for...” Adam picked up a clipboard, ”Dr. Hepzibah Roth. Office 5A. Flower delivery.”
“That I can help you with.” Kris finally smiled, relieved that things had turned businesslike. “Follow me.”
Hepzie’s office was near his, albeit much bigger. As one of her teaching assistants, he basically had a glorified broom closet.
“Roses! How wonderful!” she cried when she opened the door. Adam beamed as he set them on the table by her desk, carefully repositioning a couple of stems. She signed for the delivery and thanked and tipped him. Kris lingered by the door awkwardly. Noticing this, Hepzie made a graceful exit, telling Kris she would see him in the auditorium.
“Are you in her class?” Adam asked.
“Sort of. I’m a graduate student, and I assist her with the class. Proctor, grade papers, that sort of thing. I’m Kris. Allen. Kris Allen. And yeah, that’s me at the planetarium, too. I, um. Think maybe I saw you there.” Kris stared intently at the doorknob.
Adam’s eyes glowed.
“Adam Lambert. Coincidence, huh? Running into you. Or.... Hey,” Adam said suddenly. “You have to get to class.”
“Maybe I could sit in the back? I do that sometimes. Sit in on the really big lecture-hall lectures when I have a delivery on campus. Probably illegal, but it’s kind of fun just to pick a random class and learn something. Do some people watching.”
People watching was not a familiar concept to Kris, but he nodded anyway. “Sure, that would be fine, if you want. Hepzie’s the best.” Kris moved in the direction of the auditorium, and Adam followed.
“Maybe I can talk to you again after? If you’re not busy.”
Kris could feel the heat creeping up the back of his neck. “You don’t have any more flowers to deliver?”
“All done. It’s a great job. My aunt owns the shop, and she’s totally flexible when I need time off for other jobs. I’m a singer, by the way. And an actor, but I’m more of a singer who acts, not an actor who sings. So the flower delivery is a pay-the-bills job, but I like it. Everyone’s happy to see you when you’re bringing them flowers.”
They were at the door. Adam slipped into the end seat in the back row. “So I’ll see you after?”
Kris nodded and hurried up front just as Hepzie was beginning. During the lecture, he kept stealing glances at Adam, but he never seemed to be looking at Kris. His attention was on Hepzie and her lecture. Adam looked more attentive than half of the actual students in the class. After the lecture, however, when Kris and the other assistants were handing back papers and answering questions, he felt Adam’s eyes on him, and when the crowd thinned Adam was waiting. Hepzie’s sharp eyes had not missed this.
“Date?” she whispered.
“No!” Kris was surprised.
“Does he know that?” she asked. “At any rate, I’m officially canceling our meeting. Shoo.” She slipped away as Adam confidently approached.
Before Kris could fully realize what was happening, he was having coffee with Adam.
The coffee shop was just off campus, but Kris had never been there. He lived on coffee, but it was usually whatever sludge was sitting around in the department office or the break room. It felt strange taking the time to just sit and drink it. Coffee was usually something he gulped down or sipped absentmindedly while he was doing something else. This coffee, though, was pretty amazing. Adam clearly thought so, too. Kris watched his eyelids flutter closed as he savored his first sip. There was a tiny particle of glitter clinging just above his lashes.
Everyone seemed to know Adam. People called him by name, and the girl behind the counter flirted outrageously with both of them. Kris thought he saw her give Adam a surreptitious thumbs up.
Kris was kind of hoping Adam would do the talking. He was good at it. But Adam declared that he was going to try to have something of a filter for a change, and that he really wanted to hear all about Kris.
“So, what exactly is it you study?” Adam leaned forward expectantly, a sweet smile curving his lips.
Oh, good, Kris thought. Something easy. “Magnetic effects in low mass star formation. My research is with the Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics Group. Basically, we’re trying to develop multidimensional AMR algorithms and codes, study problems in astrophysical fluid dynamics....” He trailed off when he saw Adam’s expression. Megan was going to be so disappointed in him.
“Wow. I’m not even going to pretend I understood all that,” Adam watched, mesmerized, as Kris nervously readjusted his glasses. “So, what made you want to study stars?”
Kris thought about it for a while. “Well, my grandfather was an astrophysicist. Have you heard of the Allen telescope array at the Hat Creek telescope observatory? That’s my grandpa. Every summer when we would come out here to visit, he would take me to the observatory with him.”
“No kidding? That’s awesome, having something you’re passionate about in your blood like that. I don’t have any singers in my family. My dad loves music, he was a DJ and a Deadhead and all that, but he became an engineer. They’ve always been totally supportive of me being a singer, though.”
A pause. My turn, thought Kris. I can do this. “So...I guess you were a music major?”
“For about six weeks. But then I got a part in a musical and I kind of stopped going to class. I figure I’m the kind of guy who learns more by doing things, you know? My parents had a hard time with that at first.”
“My parents were kind of the opposite. They always wanted me to concentrate less on school, if you can believe it,” Kris said softly.
“Yeah? And concentrate more on what?”
Another pause. Adam waited patiently. “Music. I played the viola in the school orchestra, and then one Christmas they gave me a guitar. My dad used to play, but he got so busy with work, and then I was born and then my brother....”
“You play guitar?” Adam’s eyes were wide, and he reached for Kris’s hands, examining them for calluses that weren’t there.
The sensation of Adam’s cool hands on his made Kris babble. “Not anymore. There was a summer when I was fifteen when I didn’t do much of anything else but sit in my room and play. But then school started and I really needed to concentrate on that. I still played viola, though. And piano. That looks good on college applications.”
"So you played piano, viola, guitar…do you still have the guitar?"
Kris shifted uncomfortably, unaccustomed to so much attention. "No, I gave it away, when I was on a mission trip." He tried to think of a way to change the subject, but all he could think of was the way Adam's fingers were soft and gentle.
Adam released Kris’s hands. He was looking at Kris the way Kris looked at a particularly challenging math problem. “I want a snack. Do you like cinnamon rolls?”
Kris watched Adam as he waited in line, chatting with the woman in front of him. He seemed so cool and confident, so...easy. Kris took in his tight jeans and leather boots, his messy black hair. He noticed for the first time a faint purple streak running along the side. Kris realized he had no idea what he himself was wearing, but he wasn’t really surprised to look down and see a familiar plaid shirt. He had a dozen of them in his closet. It just wasn’t logical, Kris thought, for Adam to want to hang out with him. He could be with somebody fabulous.
By the time Adam came back with two cinnamon rolls, Kris was about ready to bolt, but the sensible part of his brain reminded him that he was liable to run into Adam again sometime, and it would be awfully hard to explain his disappearance. Within sixty seconds, Adam’s sweet smile put him somewhat at ease again, and the cinnamon roll gave him something to do with his hands, so he felt slightly less awkward.
As they ate, Adam told him about growing up in California, and about how eye opening it was for him to see other parts of the world when he performed on a cruise ship at eighteen.
Adam wanted to know what Arkansas was like. “I really like your accent,” he confessed. “When I heard your voice at the Queen show, I traced it back to the booth. My friend Scarlett says a southern accent is my Kryptonite.”
Kris was surprised. “I have an accent?”
“Um, yes? And a voice that just sort of resonates. Do you sing? I noticed that you were mouthing the words to the Queen songs.” Adam's grin was mischievous. "OK, I probably sound like a creepy stalker. It's just, I thought you were really cute. Oh, hey, I didn't mean to embarrass you!" Kris was choking on a bite of cinnamon roll. Adam hurried to get him a glass of water.
Back at the table, Kris tried to salvage a shred of dignity while the nurse who had fortunately been seated next to them briskly performed the Heimlich maneuver, and the piece of cinnamon roll popped neatly out.
Adam dabbed at Kris's face with a napkin. "Are you OK?"
Kris nodded and said in a strained voice, "I should really go, though. My research group meets in thirty minutes. Thank you for the coffee and everything." He couldn't quite meet Adam's eyes.
"It was my pleasure, seriously." Adam followed him out the door. "Hey, Kris? I'd really like to take you out on a real date sometime. I promise not to choke you next time."
Surprised, Kris glanced up. He was confused to see that Adam looked nervous, hopeful.
Kris blurted, "But why?"
Adam threw back his head and laughed. "Well, since there are no dangerous pastries around I can safely say, because you're adorable, and smart, and I really want to find out more about you. So…Friday?"
Kris thought. "I have observation time scheduled Friday night."
Saturday was Kris's favorite night to study. The library was practically deserted on Saturday nights, so he could work without distractions. But he couldn't think of a way to say that without sounding kind of pathetic, so he took a deep breath and said, "Saturday would be good."
Adam's smile was totally worth it.
Kris went about his business as usual that week. Now and then he would think of the coffee date with Adam and he would feel a little thrill of excitement or, when he remembered his awkwardness, mortification.
A little niggling voice in the back of his head told him that Adam had asked him out for Saturday because he felt sorry for him, and that he would no doubt cancel before the day arrived. But Saturday afternoon, he got a text from Adam saying Looking forward to tonight! Dress for outdoors.
He stared at the words for a long time, searching for traces of irony. When he found none, he opened the door of his closet and stared at the contents for a while. He wished Anoop hadn't gone out of town for a folklore convention. Finally, he called Megan.
"Hey, Megan, I need to ask you something. I'm trying to figure out something to wear tonight. No, not to the library. On a date. With, um, that guy Adam."
There was a lot of shrieking, but Megan finally managed to say, "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
Soon, Megan swept into Kris's bedroom, Ryder in tow.
"Kris!" Ryder ran to hug his leg. "Mama said you finally got your head on right. It looks the same to me. Hey, did you know Pluto isn't a planet? My teacher said so, but I told her I would have to ask you."
Kris picked him up. "Hey, buddy! Your teacher's right. It's technically classed as a dwarf planet."
"It's really mean to take away it being a whole planet, I think."
Kris had to agree.
Megan settled Ryder on Kris's bed with a pile of books and a bag of Goldfish crackers. Then she got down to business. "I'm not going to waste time fussing at you for not telling me about this sooner, because clearly we have work to do." She eyed him critically. "OK, where is he taking you?"
"Um. Outdoors. That's all I know."
She pondered that for a moment. "OK, he didn't exactly look like the outdoorsy type, so we can rule out hiking, and I think it's also safe to say no sporting events. Casual layers. Where are your jeans?" He showed her the drawer. She discarded pair after pair until she reached the bottom.
"Try these." She held up a pair of black ones.
"No, those are too small—"
She raised her eyebrows. He meekly took them and headed to the bathroom. When he came back, Megan nodded her approval and handed him a henley she had rescued from drowning in the sea of plaid. "This. And this jacket. I wish you had leather. But hey, he clearly liked what he saw before, right? No need to be all Sandy-at-the-end-of-Grease."
Kris pulled on the shirt, which he personally felt was a little snug, but Megan nodded her approval, so. When he reached for his glasses, she cleared her throat pointedly.
"Megan, I need these to see!"
"No, you need them to read. And hide behind." Reluctantly, he left them on the dresser.
She pulled out a tube of gel and began working on his hair. Ryder giggled.
"Oh, yeah? You're next, kiddo." Megan spiked Ryder's hair while Kris paced nervously.
"Hey, you. It's gonna be great. Just relax, OK?"
Kris shook his head. She didn't understand. Megan sent Ryder to the living room to look through Kris's telescope.
"Kris, it's just a date. This isn't your first date with a guy, is it?"
Kris was quiet. "It's actually my first date with anyone, since high school."
Megan stared at him. "If you were anyone else, I wouldn't believe you. Kris…how is that even possible? I mean, you're gorgeous, and sweet, and lord knows you're smart. Exactly how hard did you have to work to keep from going out on a date for," she quickly calculated, "five years?"
Kris shrugged. "I don't know. I guess some people asked me out. Girls. There was this one guy who lived in my dorm when I was a sophomore, but I don't think he ever knew that I…you know. And then after that I guess I was just really busy."
"With school. And work. And research."
"Yeah." Kris fiddled with the hem of his shirt.
"Well." They sat in silence for a moment. "You know what? Ancient history. Tonight, you're going out with a hot guy, and you're gonna have a great time." She stood up. "Just be yourself. But don't talk too much about astrophysics. And don't drink too much, you're not used to it. Do you have condoms?"
"I ask because I love you. Here." She pulled a strip out of her bag and handed them to him. He hastily shoved them under the pillow just as the doorbell rang. Kris gave Megan a panicky look, and she gave him a squeeze. "Just breathe, baby. Let's go."
In the tiny living room, Adam was peering through Kris's telescope as Ryder gave him the sad news about Pluto. "I figure when Kris gets to be in charge of all the space stuff, he can fix it, though. Kris!" Ryder ran to him and tugged until Kris picked him up. He whispered, "This is Adam. He brought you flowers."
Blushing, Kris's eyes fell on the bouquet in Adam's hand.
"Hi." Adam smiled as he held out the flowers. "Stargazer lilies, because, well."
Kris stared at them. "Thank you."
When he didn't take them, Megan said, "I'll just put these in some water," and she carried them to the kitchen.
"I guess you've met Ryder. And that's his mom, Megan."
"From the planetarium. I remember her. She's gorgeous."
All three boys nodded.
"She's the best mom," said Ryder.
"She really is," agreed Kris. "I mean, after my mom in Arkansas."
Megan swept back in. "All right, Buddy, let's go. The big boys have a date." She kissed Kris on the cheek as she took Ryder. "Have fun. Nice to meet you Adam." And then they were alone.
The outdoor event was a flamenco guitar concert. "I hope that's OK. I remembered that you play guitar, and I thought it might be fun. Maybe I should have asked, first. I can be a little controlling, that's what my ex says. He also says I talk too much, so, I'll stop now." Adam clamped his lips shut. Kris noticed that his lips had a pink shimmer to them. It looked really nice.
"No, that sounds great! I mean, the guitar concert. And I don't think you talk too much at all."
Adam took him to a tapas restaurant for before the concert. "Sort of a theme," he grinned.
"Cool. Is there going to be a pinata later?" Kris joked, and he felt a pleasant little tingle when Adam laughed his musical laugh.
Over dinner, Adam told Kris stories about his friends, about life as a musician. Kris learned that the little blond guy who had come to the planetarium with Adam was Tommy, his straight roommate. He told Kris about his best friend Danielle, and about the Cherrys, who had taken him under their wing, and even about his ex, Brad. "We're good friends, still. We just wanted different things."
Kris told Adam about Daniel and his parents, about rooming with Anoop and finding out about the job at the planetarium from Anoop's girlfriend Megan. Working the extra job kept him from taking out as many loans. With a little coaxing, Kris told him about Katy, the girl he had dated through high school. "I think it was obvious to her after a while that I was gay," he said matter of factly. "It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I figured it out myself." He didn't mention the five year dry spell.
Kris asked about the symbol dangling from one of Adam's necklaces. "It's my star sign. Aquarius." Kris didn't know how to respond. All he could think of was Katy and her friends reading their horoscopes in Cosmo, and cheesy 70's pickup lines.
"When's your birthday?" Adam asked easily. If he saw the skepticism on Kris's face, he didn't mention it.
"Ah. Cancer, but on the cusp of Gemini. Water sign. Your secret desire is to feel safe, secure, but you're creative, too. Cancers are a bundle of contradictions."
Kris chuckled. "OK, you got me on the safe thing, maybe. But contradictions? No way. I'm as uncomplicated as it gets. All right, tell me about Aquarius."
"Aquarius, the water bearer." Kris blushed at the implication in Adam's twinkling eyes. "The Aquarian's main desire is to be unique and original. His main pursuit is to understand life’s mysteries. You know," he continued, "unravel those contradictions. Like how a guy can be smoking hot and totally unassuming at the same time."
Kris was saved from responding to that (because really, how could he?) by the appearance of the check, and then it was time to go.
The concert was in a meadow in a park. There were no seats, but people had brought camp chairs and blankets. Adam pulled a quilt and basket from the trunk of his car. He spread the quilt out on the grass at the edge of the crowd, and from the basket he pulled a bottle of wine, two plastic cups, and a citronella candle. Kris realized that a lot of planning had gone into this date.
As they sat on the quilt, thighs just inches apart, and sipped the wine, Kris was suddenly overwhelmed. Not just by the presence of Adam, so warm and alive next to him, but by the energy coming from all the people around them, and the dew on the grass, and the candle flame flickering in the little glass jar. When the music travelled to him on the fragrant spring breeze, he soaked it in until it ran through his veins, until he finally had to shut his eyes just so he could bear it all.
He eventually became aware of Adam's hand on his, thumb stroking gently, and he opened his eyes to find Adam gazing at him, eyes unreadable. He smiled and brought Kris's hand to his lips, barely grazing his skin, but Kris could feel his breath, warm and moist, and he shivered. For the rest of the concert, Adam tucked him under his arm. Safe. Secure.
They stayed until everyone had left and it was just the two of them, lying on their backs, gazing up at the stars.
"I never see them like this anymore," Kris murmured. I'm always too close."
He turned on his side to face Adam. "Thank you. For the best date I ever had. I'm probably not supposed to say that out loud." And he pressed his lips to Adam's, and he wasn't afraid at all.
When he woke up the next morning to the buzzing of his phone, Kris's first thought was Adam. It wasn't Adam, though. It was Megan.
is he still there?
He squinted at the clock. 10:16. He was supposed to be at Leuschner in fourteen minutes, and he didn't even have his charts prepped. He had planned to get up extra early to make up for the time lost last night. He quickly responded to Megan: no. went great. late for work, tell you later. Then he took a three minute shower, grabbed a bagel, and ran to the observatory.
On the way, he replayed the events of the night before in his mind. He thought of the way Adam had casually tangled his fingers in Kris's as they walked to the car, the way that Adam sang along softly with the songs on the radio on the drive back to Kris's place. He remembered Adam pressing him to the door and kissing him until his knees trembled, and he tentatively asked Adam if he wanted to come in. And he remembered the way Adam had pressed his forehead against Kris's for a long time before he whispered, "Yes. But not tonight." And then he kissed him some more.
"Next time is my treat, OK?" Kris asked, and Adam said sure, said anything you want, baby, and Kris had thrilled at the name.
Adam texted him about fifteen minutes later, Goodnight, stargazer, and Kris had texted back, Goodnight, superstar, and sure, it was silly, but he knew that Adam would get it.
For the rest of the day, he seemed to be out of step with everyone in the group. He was a little behind, he was underprepared, and he couldn't seem to focus. Kris never had trouble concentrating on his work; it was everything else that usually slipped by the wayside. But today, his mind wandered to Adam, and his fingers were restless, trying to recreate Spanish guitar runs on his coffee cup. He checked his phone every ten minutes, and when he saw a message from Adam he jumped from the table and went to the bathroom so he could read it and respond in private.
By the time he got home, he had come to the conclusion that this was unacceptable behavior.
The next day wasn't much better. During his office hours, he listened to student after student without hearing much of anything they said. He went home without the papers he needed to grade, went back to his office to get them, then stood in his office for five minutes trying to remember why he had returned. At home with his stack of work, Kris stared at the black ink and thought of Adam's hair, the way it was shiny in the moonlight.
Adam was distracting. Kris couldn't afford to be distracted.
When Adam texted that they should meet for lunch Tuesday, Kris said that he had to catch up on his data. When Adam asked Kris if he could swing by after the planetarium lecture on Thursday, Kris said he was sorry, but he and Andrew needed to reconfigure the light setup for the new black hole series. When Adam invited Kris to come hear him sing at Cherry Saturday night, Kris said he wasn't sure, he had a lot to do.
He left his phone at home when he went to the library.
He stayed there for hours, until the night librarian told him it was time to lock up, and when he left he felt like himself again, on top of things, in control, the numbers all in place. He walked home with his head down, already mapping out his schedule for Leuschner on Sunday, when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the red guitar in the pawn shop window.
He stood at the window for a long time, just looking at it, remembering the way the strings felt on his fingers that summer, painful at first, but eventually, perfectly natural. When the owner began to flip the sign on the door from open to closed, Kris knew there was no way he could leave it there that night.
When he got home, he stared at it for a long time, running his hands along the neck. He couldn't play it; it would need a lot of work before it was in playing condition. Finally he wrapped it in a blanket and slid it under his bed.
From the bedside table, his phone stared at him reproachfully. Kris imagined it speaking in Megan's voice: How could you go off and leave me like that? He imagined it putting skinny little phone hands on its hips and glaring at him.
He picked the phone up and pressed it to his chest with a groan. After a long while, he flipped it open and checked.
One voice mail.
"Hi, Kris, it's me. Adam." A pause. "I've tried to call you a few times tonight, but. You didn't answer. Listen, I'm not really sure what's going on. Maybe I got the wrong impression last Saturday, or…it's just, I kind of get the feeling you're avoiding me now, and I can't figure out why. If it's something I did, or didn't do, or…" Kris heard him sigh. "OK, if what you want is for me to leave you alone, then I'll do that. But I really, really hope that's not what you want me to do. OK. So. Ball's in your court, I guess."
"No," Kris said to the phone. "No. That's not what I want at all."
Fifteen minutes later, he was pushing open the door to Cherry. The small club was packed with people, and at first he couldn't make out anything but colorful swirls. But he heard Adam's voice, and that was enough to keep him from walking right back out the door. He made his way to an empty table at the back.
It was just Adam on stage, sitting on a stool, and a guy playing piano. Kris sat mesmerized as he listened to Adam's voice, so light but rich and powerful. He had heard Adam singing softly in the car, but nothing had prepared him for this. He looked beautiful. Really, no other word would do, Adam was simply beautiful, broken open and bare on the stage.
Kris didn't even notice at first when Tommy slipped into the seat next to him.
"So, how many astronomers does it take to change a lightbulb?"
Tommy continued, "None. Astronomers prefer the dark. Ba dum pah." His smile was kind, so Kris smiled back.
"Tommy Ratliff." He held out his hand, and Kris took it.
"I know. Adam's roommate. I'm Kris."
"He didn't think you were gonna come," Tommy observed.
Kris didn't answer.
"But you did. This is the last song in the set. You gonna let him know you're here, or are you gonna sit back here in the dark?"
Kris looked at Tommy, with his bleached hair and tattoos. He looked around the bar at all the gorgeous, colorful people laughing and dancing. He felt like he was on a different planet.
"I don't belong here," he tried to explain.
But Tommy just shrugged. "I figure people belong wherever they most want to be. Where do you want to be?"
Kris made his way to the front of the crowd near the stage just as the last notes were dying away and the applause was beginning. Adam saw him at once and gestured for him to wait, so he did, and a couple of minutes later Adam joined him, a dozen questions in his eyes.
"Can we go somewhere?" Kris asked, and Adam took his hand and led him to the door. It was a relief to be outside again. The silence rushed into his ears, and the cool night air felt good in his lungs. Adam started to let go of his hand when they got to the street, but Kris held on tight. They walked like that for a couple of minutes.
Kris broke the silence. "I owe you an apology."
Adam didn't answer at first. "Do you, Kris? I'm really not even sure—"
"I do. You didn't misread anything last Saturday. You read exactly what I was feeling. I—I guess I just freaked out a little, because…because I liked you so much."
Adam stopped and turned to face him. He took Kris's other hand and just waited.
Kris continued, "All I could think about was you, and I couldn't concentrate on the research, or school, or anything else—" He ran out of words and looked at Adam pleadingly.
"Kris, that's normal, that's just how it is when you're in—when you first start to really connect with somebody. That's not a bad thing, baby, it's a great thing, and I wish it could last forever." He chuckled. "But sad to say it probably won't, and you'll be able to concentrate on school again, I promise." He searched Kris's face. "Is that all?"
"I just. I don't understand why you would want…. I'm not like those people back there. I'm boring, and I can't dance, and I never say the right thing, and—"
"And you could be with—"
"I could just as easily say, why would you want to be with me? I don't understand math, and I can be bossy, and I talk too much, and—"
"You don't talk too much."
"And I'm covered in freckles, and—"
"I love your freckles—wait, covered?" Kris's eyes dropped to the deep V of Adam's shirt.
Adam nodded solemnly. "Every inch."
"So it's a really good thing you like them."
Kris swallowed hard.
It took them approximately eight minutes to get back to Adam's apartment, and another hour after that before Kris was satisfied that Adam was, indeed, covered with freckles. Adam was delighted to note that Kris had a few patches of his own. "See? We're two of a kind," he murmured as he explored the minor constellation inside Kris's left thigh.
It was some time later, when the lights were out and they were drifting off to blissful sleep, that Kris noticed the glow-in-the-dark plastic stars stuck on the ceiling over Adam's bed.
"Wow," he said. "I had those in my room when I was—"
"Eight? I know, I know. But I got them last year to remind me of something."
Kris frowned a little in the dark. "That was before you met me."
"Mm hmm. Once, I was in this production of Romeo and Juliet."
"Tybalt. King of the cats. But Juliet had this line. She said, 'When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars. And he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will—'"
"'— be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.' I was in that play in high school. You know, looks good on college applications."
Adam looked impressed. "Romeo?"
"Friar Lawrence. Anyway, you were saying?"
"Right. So I always remembered that line, because she was just so crazy in love, you know? The real thing. That's what I wanted. And I guess I lost sight of that for a while. But last year I said to myself, you know what? No more. I'm holding out for the real thing." He turned to face Kris in the dark. "And that, Stargazer, is how you come to find yourself in the bed of a twenty-six year old man with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on his ceiling."
Kris nestled his face in the crook of Adam's neck before he answered. "No place in the universe I'd rather be."
"Wake up, Dr. Allen."
Kris smiled in spite of himself. "Stop calling me that."
"I can't I be proud of my boyfriend? Come on, just for today, and after the graduation ceremony I'll stop. Mostly. Tell me about string theory again."
"Adam, there are fewer than five people in the world who fully understand string theory, and I'm not even close to being one of them."
"Maybe, but it's so sexy when you try." Adam spooned closer around him, curving his body into a little c and nibbling at the leather cord around Kris's neck. From the cord dangled three charms: a silver crab, a music note, a star sapphire. His graduation gift from Adam.
Kris reached for Adam's hand and held it over his heart, callused fingers stroking freckled ones. He saw stacks of books, tangled necklaces, abandoned coffee cups. He heard Adam's lovebirds, Arthur and Eames, rustling in their cage. He felt the rise and fall of Adam's chest, warm and solid beneath him. Not for the first time, and not for the last, Kris had to close his eyes tight, just so he could bear it all.