|Thunder, Clap Us Open
Author: jellyfishheart PM
"The day Santana devotes to finally clearing out her closet, three things happen." Touches on family, relationships, and sexuality. Brittana, Quinntana. UPDATE: temporary hiatus due to broken laptop & corrupted files.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Family - Quinn F. & Santana L. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 61,310 - Reviews: 203 - Favs: 205 - Follows: 351 - Updated: 05-27-12 - Published: 09-19-11 - id: 7396619
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's note: I'm Canadian, so it's sort of my duty to apologize for every little thing, but I truly do want to apologize for the wait between chapters. You have no idea how much I appreciate you all sticking around and the response I've gotten from this is just... unbelievable.
To all those commenting about Desi, I thought I'd let you know that he's actually based on my own brother, who's 10, but said to me when I came out to him, "The gay thing's cool, and the straight thing would be cool too, but I never want to hear you having sex."
And finally, on this chapter: I haven't been to church since I was a little kid, so I'm going based on what my Google search results told me for the first scene. My apologies if it's way off base or in any way offensive. Also, the song at the end is The Great Escape by Patrick Watson.
Happy New Year!
Santana's family has been going to the same church every Sunday since she was a tiny little thing in miniscule Mary Janes and a frilly red dress. She's spent every Sunday losing her swirling thoughts in the reds and blues and yellows of the massive stained glass windows. Every single Sunday since before she could even walk without clutching her father's finger, she's found herself in the same row next to the Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus; so proud and docile on the painted glass.
This Sunday is no different – Santana smoothes down the skirt of her simple black dress as she slides into her usual seat at the end of the pew. She used to have Desi glued to her side, back when he was too young to not wiggle around; now Abuela sits next to her and she holds her grandmother's hand so the woman doesn't flee.
It's what she tells herself, anyway. Sometimes she holds on so she herself doesn't slip between the words of the most-read passage in her Bible.
Leviticus 18:22 – she has the page open in the Bible her mother gave her for her 8th birthday, and she knows she's not supposed to be reading right now; knows she should pay attention, but the words swim before her eyes and yank on her heart while the service continues.
"As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ's love, let us acknowledge our failures and ask the Lord for pardon and strength."
Her father sends a poignant look to Desi, who misses it, being more focused on watching his feet swing in front of him, but Santana catches the full meaning as she closes her Bible and sets it on the bench beside her.
Abuela gives Santana's hand a firm squeeze.
The silence lifts and the crowd begins speaking; Santana joins a beat after the rest and lets her gaze drift to Mary's kind eyes while reciting words she sometimes finds herself whispering at night as she tries so desperately to fall asleep.
I confess to you almighty God,
and to you, brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
and in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and the saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God.
"May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive our sins, and bring us to everlasting life."
"Amen," Santana says with everyone else.
Abuela waits a second longer; looks Santana in the eye. "Amen."
In the pancake house, piled on top of each other in the small booth, Santana sits with her elbows tucked to her sides and holds her breath each time her father's gaze passes across her side of the table.
He hasn't said a word to her since coming home from the hotel the other morning. She waits in fear.
As usual, she orders a dish with copious amounts of fruit and little else to avoid the guilt that comes with consuming anything that isn't on the Sue Sylvester List of Approved Foods. She's off the Cheerios, sure, but some habits are harder to break than bread with a family whose love comes with conditions.
There's a dotted line she signed, somewhere; there's fine print that outlines exactly who she's supposed to be if she wants to be a part of this family.
Each day brings her closer to the end of her contract.
And she waits.
Desi steals a strawberry from her plate and she lets him, like she does every Sunday, because some things aren't worth fighting for anymore. She's too tired to care about a missing piece of fruit that still wouldn't be able to fill the empty hole inside her.
These days, all her energy goes into staying absolutely still so not even a goosebump or raised hair falls out of line.
Even when Desi kicks her under the table she remains frozen in her spot; too afraid to breathe as her father glances at her once again. His dark eyes used to hold the sort of warmth a child seeks out after a nightmare – now, as his daughter daren't even shiver lest she be reprimanded, his eyes hold only shadows.
Sunday is her day for repose; her day of rest. She tells this to herself at each week's end and yet she still finds herself burrowed under blankets in her room, holding her breath. When she was younger it was easier to kick off her dress shoes and submerge herself in a game of Barbies or house or whatever it was that Brittany wanted to play that day.
Now, with Brittany so far from her, with her memories so smudged, she finds it difficult to even contemplate opening her laptop to play another mindless round of Solitaire.
She blindly sticks her hand out a hole in her blanket burrito and grabs for her phone; Quinn's number is dialed in an instant and she finds the vaguest hint of comfort in the echoing rings.
Her lungs relax and air flows freely upon hearing Quinn's familiar voice. How strange, she thinks, that the same girl who was once her only competition now brings her such relief.
"My parents went out and I'm stuck watching Desi, and I thought maybe you might want to-"
Quinn makes a slight noise in her throat. "I'm sorry, Santana. I'm at Mike's… He's giving me dance lessons."
"Mike Chang?" Santana's chest twists and she lets her tent of blankets collapse on her face, momentarily stifling her breathing. Of course it's Mike Chang; they don't know any other Mikes, let alone another whose body moves so eloquently.
"Yeah, he- he offered."
"Okay." She's not sure why this leaves a bitter taste in her mouth; all she knows is her heart feels like a tangled iron chain and Mike suddenly looks a lot like Artie, in her mind. "Cool. Tell him I say hi."
"I… I will," Quinn says hesitantly. "If you want, I could ask if he could give you lessons as well; I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
"No, that's fine. I'll just call Brittany or something. Have fun with Mike," Santana says too cheerfully. The words leave a tangy trail as they slide off her tongue. "And don't forget to hydrate."
Quinn's soft chuckle breathes sunshine through the phone. "Thanks, S. I'll talk to you later."
Santana rushes a quiet goodbye before hanging up and rolling over so her face is smooshed against her pillow. On the other end of the line, Quinn listens to the dial tone and wonders why the knowledge that she was Santana's first choice feels so much like a trophy.
She's still smiling as she makes her way back downstairs to Mike's basement studio. He smiles in return, so pleased to finally see her happy.
Desi's feet betray him as he goes to get Santana and now he knows that yes, it's possible to fall up the stairs. He laughs to himself as he rubs at a spot on his knee that'll definitely bruise and wonders if he should bother telling Santana; if it might put a smile on her scarily blank face.
The words disappear from his mouth as she opens her bedroom door – he sees the faint remainder of disappointment in her eyes from something he won't ask about and now he really needs to find his voice because she's staring at him like he's grown a second head (or worse, like she's thinking about hugging him).
"Y-your favorite blonde's here," he manages to get out, before slipping away from her suffocating look and heading back downstairs.
His feet betray him once more as he rushes back into the living room and now he knows for sure – his hands are definitely his only friends.
He falls back into place next to Abuela's propped up leg, grabbing the marker to continue drawing on her cast, as Santana, wrapped in a blanket, trudges into the sunlit room.
Brittany jumps up from the other side of Abuela's cast, where she was drawing a cat with a mustache – and there's that streaky disappointment in Santana's dark eyes again; it wakes something in the pit of Desi's stomach.
It's only as Brittany follows Santana back up the stairs (don't think he misses the way their hands cautiously bump together the moment they think they're out of sight) that he realizes why Santana looked so puzzled with Brittany's presence: she was expecting Quinn.
Abuela absentmindedly pats his head and yes, he's given up on wearing that collar, but he presses up into her palm anyway, purring slightly – because he can at least make one person in this house smile.
His abuela meets his eye in a moment of clarity and he's startled to find a knowing look on her face, after such a long stretch of blank gazes.
"That girl's got a mess of a heart," she tells him, switching her focus to the colorful drawings on her cast. "But she's a good kid. She'll figure it out."
She rests her hand flat on top of a drawing of one of those flowers Mami always used to put in her hair and he covers her hand with his own, staring hard at his smooth fingers on top of her wrinkled ones. Time must be heavy, he thinks. Abuela wears so much of it.
"I hope so," he says finally, looking up at Abuela. She gives him a soft nod. "I really hope she'll be okay."
Brittany sinks into her usual spot in Santana's chair like it hasn't been over a month since she was last in this cave of a room – she fills the space with her careful smile and deep blue eyes that roam everywhere but the girl sitting across from her, a lump on the unmade bed.
Santana doesn't mean to make a noise. She'd actually been counting the seconds of silence in her own heartbeats but somehow her tongue slipped and a tiny squeak tumbled out and Brittany still isn't looking at her. Santana tightens the blanket around her shoulders.
"When did Abuela move in?" Brittany asks finally, pulling her knees to her chest.
"While you were away. She…" Santana's gaze lands on her dresser, half expecting to see a rogue doily. "Her memory's going. Alzheimer's."
Anyone else would have an apology at the ready; Brittany nods like it's her own diagnosis.
"She still remembers me though," she says quietly.
It's almost painless when Santana says, "You're impossible to forget."
Brittany finally lifts her gaze to meet Santana's and her eyes are full like the moon on a cloudless night, asking if it's okay to light up the dark stretch of sky – Santana gives a subconscious nod and brings a hand to her mouth as her throat suddenly burns with the threat of tears.
"Hey," Brittany says softly, rising from the chair to join Santana on the bed. It's a sacred place and feels so much like the day they broke into the church because Santana needed to show Brittany how happy Mary was, on the colored glass. 'It's okay… You're okay, Santana. You're okay."
Tears spill out onto Brittany's waiting fingertip and the whisper of a touch feels more like a kiss than anything ever has before, the way it burns her skin so perfectly.
Her heart presses its nose up against the bars of her ribcage, trying to get closer to Brittany; she has to pull away before it breaks through her chest completely and even then it still throws itself against her ribs repeatedly like shaking her walls might make it easier to cry in front of the girl who once kissed an entire poem into the tender skin of her inner thigh and then later said that vicious sentence that yanked the rug out from under whatever they were.
"Santana," Brittany calls out in a whisper, leaning in as Santana pulls back.
Without thinking, Santana reaches out to cup Brittany's cheek and the contact singes the skin of her palm like she reached out to caress the sun. She keeps her hand there a heartbeat longer before retreating; inching down into her blankets with only an apology etched across her face.
Brittany nods and finds a spot at the edge of the bed, staring at the floor like the wooden boards pass each other as waves in a raging sea.
It hits Santana all at once, how unfair it is that they can communicate so perfectly without words – she's sure if they had to work at understanding each other, it would be so much easier to extract themselves from the tangled red strings of this… whatever. (The word relationship can't even flit through Santana's thoughts – it's foggy and half smothered by fear every time she tries to draw it forward.)
It's been this way since they first met; since she first pinky promised on their friendship and Brittany didn't let go. They've been caught in a silent conversation since their gazes first found each other across a noisy classroom.
And now Santana has to shut her eyes, because Brittany watches her from the edge of the bed like they aren't two separate people – like Santana's life is Brittany's life and yes, that's how it's been since the beginning of time. But it still doesn't make it any easier to breathe.
A touch on her palm brings her out from her thoughts; she stills her heart and focuses on the feeling of fingertip against lifelines.
Brittany writes an invisible word.
When Santana opens her eyes, she swears she can see the letters glimmering on her skin – hi.
She lifts her gaze to meet Brittany's and whispers, "Hey."
They don't leave Santana's bed for hours after that. The August sun climbs higher in the sky until it passes over them completely, and just when Santana thinks they're finally getting that glorious, sticky Lima heat the weatherman's been promising for weeks, clouds blot the sky with a shade of dusk and Brittany's hands on her bare back turn to ice.
(After coaxing Santana out of the blankets, Brittany took to writing notes on the skin of Santana's back – like she did when they were younger, in the dark long after they were supposed to be asleep.)
"I think I left the heat in Scotland," Brittany comments idly, tracing a U and then an L with her fingertip.
Santana shivers slightly under the cool touch, but drops her head to the pillow she's hugging and focuses on the feeling of the now-complete word. Beautiful. "Should have brought that back for me," she murmurs. "As a souvenir."
Brittany's hand jumps away from Santana's back, letting the shirt fall into place. "Oh! I did bring something back for you. Not the heat, but. I got you something."
Curious, Santana lifts her head to watch as Brittany hops off the bed, dropping to the floor to rummage through the bag she brought with her. Long blonde tresses fall in her face and Santana has such an urge to brush them away; press her lips to Brittany's tender neck and curl around her like a child's fingers around a pebble.
"Here," Brittany says almost breathlessly, turning now with something in her hand. Her eyes sparkle with that unabashed joy that tumbles out of her no matter where she goes; a comfort as uncertainty suddenly washes over Santana. "This is for you."
Brittany drops her voice to a whisper and opens her hand, palm up. A tiny replica of a near-crumbling castle sits in Brittany's hand so delicately, like her skin is plush velvet, meant to hold a ring. Santana swallows back a rush of tears and tries to ignore how earnestly Brittany kneels in front of her, waiting for a response.
The castle is beautiful; exactly the kind of tacky trinket Santana won't admit to loving. She knows this is why Brittany got it for her – had they been in the gift shop together, Santana would have paused in front of it, unable to bite back a goofy smile as she fingered the turrets. It's beautiful because it's another reminder that she and Brittany fit; that Brittany will always know what Santana won't say and the two are tied in ways she'll probably never understand.
She misses the exact moment she begins to cry but her cheeks are wet as she reaches out for the little castle and cradles it so carefully in a gentle hand.
Brittany knows her place right now and hangs back, watching Santana's eyes take in each miniature painted stone, smiling with such loving it actually starts to hurt. She wouldn't trade that ache for anything, though. It's there to remind her how much Santana means to her; how much she needs this girl who's so valiantly pretending a tiny castle didn't just break her into pieces.
"It's perfect, Britt," Santana says through her tears, and her face breaks into a smile. "I love it."
It's all Brittany needs to hear before she launches herself at Santana, hugging her so tightly she forgets where she ends and Santana begins.
Santana pretends not to notice when her phone lights up with a new text from Quinn.
When the sun comes up again, bringing with it a new day, Santana lasts all of three minutes before she twists over in her sheets to find the other half of her bed empty.
Brittany left as soon as the streetlights came on, saying she promised her sister they'd get in a movie before bedtime, so Santana shouldn't be clutching her fists to her bare chest in an attempt to stifle her disappointment. She fell asleep alone. Logic tells her it's only right that she woke up alone as well.
But her body's like memory foam – even in her dreams the imprint of Brittany's curves remained in her arms, etched in her skin; feeling so much like home after a month of that monstrous bed feeling too empty.
It shouldn't be like this, but an evening of Brittany stretched out on the blankets, limbs everywhere, somehow caused Santana to forget it was ever different.
Brittany's absence is a suffocating hangover in the climbing August heat.
Wait – that's new.
She glances out her window like that might actually tell her the temperature, then brings up the weather on her phone (ignoring the missed call and several unread texts) to see the summer might actually have arrived.
She should've guessed from her nightshirt hanging off a lampshade; even in sleep she's quick to wriggle out of her clothes when the heat becomes too much.
Hazy, she allows herself a few more minutes of sitting in bed, sheets pooling at her waist, to mull things over. Cicadas hum outside for the first time since June and she lets her thoughts hum with them; too bleary-minded to make an attempt at focusing.
It's only as her little brother bursts through the doorway that she jumps to life, scrambling to cover herself with her sheets.
"I saw nothing I swear!" Desi cries out, shielding his eyes with his arm.
The way he steps backwards, she's sure he saw nipple but she's not awake enough to give a shit. The kid was breastfed; boobs won't kill him.
(Unless he turns out to be gay as well – and aside from their parents having to think of some tragic boating accident to explain why they no longer have any children, the idea gives her a small chuckle. The laughter stops when she realizes she's just flashed her kid brother and is now cackling to herself.)
"Get out, worm," she tosses out halfheartedly, tightening her crossed arms over the sheet.
He visibly shudders and speaks directly to the floor. "Mami told me to get you up so you don't waste the day being a lazy bum in your princess bed."
"It's ten," she informs him.
"You're ten," he retorts in a greasy voice, immediately laughing at himself. "I used that comeback on Mami when she said the counter was dirty and she smacked me with a wet dishrag."
Santana can't help but laugh with him, the mental image already filing itself in her vault of things to bring back when she's hiding in her closet, close to tears.
"But anyway, you should get up. She's taking the day off work to pick up around the house so unless you want to spend the day scrubbing toilets, you should probably find plans." He shifts in the doorway and gives her a strange look. "If you can't find anyone to hang out with, I'm going over to Jake's dad's house to swim and he really wouldn't mind if you came with me…"
The last thing she wants to do is parade around in a bikini in front of prepubescent boys. She gets enough of that with Puck.
Still, the sentiment's appreciated.
Until- "Why wouldn't I be able to find anyone?" she demands, suddenly realizing what he meant with that.
"W-well, normally you'd hang out with Quinn, but she-" He swallows and tries again. "I just haven't seen her around lately and then Brittany was over and I thought…"
"Did you break her heart?" His voice comes out all small and tentative, like the line he just crossed might grow teeth and rip him apart, but he juts out his chin to try and convince himself he's stronger than whatever's going to happen next.
She can't attack him after he just reminded her that he's the only person on this entire planet that cares enough to pay attention.
"I mean, you kissed her, and then…" He speaks even softer now, his hands coming up to curl over his heart. "Is she okay?"
Santana thinks back to the hollow echo in Quinn's eyes as they said goodbye, standing like brackets on Quinn's front step, and has to clear her throat to speak through the expanding worry.
"I haven't- oh God." She shakes her head and blinks back the sort of tears that only grace her when she's in trouble, like the first time she ever landed in the principal's office for defending Brittany's honor. "Des, I kissed her. Oh Jesus. Oh my God."
He stares at her with the most incredulous expression on his wise little face.
"Did you kiss Brittany?" he asks patiently, as if she's a child with a bruised knee.
"No. I mean, I wanted to, but. She doesn't want- I don't know why I'm explaining this to you. You don't care," she bites out, running a finger under her eyes to rid the soft skin of tears.
"Okay," he says with a simple shrug. "If you want."
"But Quinn's not an option," she continues quietly, unable to meet his gaze. "Neither one's an option because I can't be with a girl because I won't have a father if I'm one of them."
He considers this carefully; his body hangs against the doorframe so softly he reminds her of butter on the kitchen table, dish perfectly aligned with the grain of the wood. She can almost see the thoughts writing themselves out inside his mind and she wonders if the letters ever come out in his handwriting, like hers do most of the time (or like someone else's, like how sometimes when she thinks it's like Brittany's writing the thoughts inside her skull).
"But you'll still have a brother," he says finally. "And a mother. And a grandmother. And a girlfriend, Santana. And you know what? That's an awful lot of good things. And right now it's just an awful lot of shit."
She can't even bring herself to chastise him for the foul language when the rest of that was so… right.
"But what if I'm not ready?" she murmurs, hating how tired and small she sounds.
He shrugs his bony shoulders again. "You weren't ready to jump off the high diving board at the community pool but you did that and didn't drown."
"Puck pushed me," she informs him.
"I just think that even if Papi doesn't speak to you ever again because he's stupid, it's better than you being stupid and not fixing things with your blondes. And you know, if you don't want Quinn, you should tell her that in a few years, I'm gonna be super tall and strong and full of the Lopez charm so I'd definitely be worth the wait."
Desi grins at her and she can't help but grin right back.
"You really think Mami will still love me?" she asks instead of commenting on his high hopes, because she was once a kid with a crush and she wants him to hold onto that feeling as long as possible.
"I think you being a lesbian is a gazillion times better than you puking all down the inside of her coat when you were six and she still loved you after that, so." His eyes fill with warmth and reassurance as he pushes off of the doorframe and straightens up, giving her a nod.
She presses her lips together and curls her fingers around the edge of the sheet. "I'm scared, Des."
"I know." He smiles sadly. "But you're brave; you're gonna be okay."
Her heart clenches and she suddenly sees the two of them as adults, with families of their own, both keeping in touch with crude emails and those stupid Hallmark cards he always forces her to read at the store. She hopes that one day she'll be able to support him the way he's done for her, at eleven for Christ's sake; hopes one day she'll find the words (or card) to tell him how he's saving her life, day after day.
She's going to fix things with- her blondes. Yeah; she likes that. She's going to fix things with her blondes.
Quinn isn't expecting anyone to call this early in the day (or at all; she'd only slipped her phone in her pocket so she could keep track of the time). She's on her way to Mike's, again, eyes on the heat rising from the sidewalk when her phone starts to vibrate.
It actually startles her. And then she thinks how sad this is, that she's grown so used to no one contacting her.
(Even with Mike she's the one that calls him, and yes, that's probably because she keeps everyone so far at bay that they're afraid to approach her, but part of her worries it's because he secretly dreads spending time with her and only does this because he's a Nice Guy.)
She wrestles her phone from the tight pocket of her denim shorts to see it's Santana calling; then hates how unsure she sounds when she answers.
"Sorry if I disturbed you or some shit," Santana greets her, also sounding just as unsure.
Quinn tenses as a dog-walker and the largest husky she's ever seen pass her. "You didn't… I'm just- on my way to Mike's."
His name on her tongue sounds like an old friend or a beau and she nearly laughs at the thought; that someone like her would actually have a guy like him in her life.
"I wasn't aware this was a thing."
"Santana." (And now she's trying to decipher how this name sounds; if it's as complicated as she feels or just rests there as a simple friend.)
"Isn't he still dating Tina? Or did she ditch him for some other vampire-loving Asian?"
Quinn rolls her eyes. "It's just dance lessons. He's doing me a favor."
"Oh? And are you doing him a favor by providing some eye-candy while he mopes over his obviously failing relationship?" Santana practically barks through the phone and Quinn physically reels back at the venomous words.
"Why does this bother you so much? Can't I have friends?"
The question lingers between them in an uneasy space, leaving Quinn to wonder when the two of them became a black hole – stuck with only each other because everything else gets pulled right through them.
"Sorry. I'm just a little on edge…" Santana's voice softens slightly. "My brother walked in on me naked this morning and the air-conditioner broke some time last night. And of course, today had to be the day Lima breaks record for the hottest day of the year."
"Of course," Quinn echoes, still mildly wounded from Santana's earlier accusations.
"So is this dance shit an all-day thing or do you want to like, I don't know, hang out?"
And suddenly the uncertainty is back in Santana's voice, soaking through every word and muffling what was left of Santana's forced confidence. Quinn doesn't want to hear her like this.
"It's not, but Tina's coming over after and they invited me to watch a movie with them, so…" So I thought I should accept because no one else ever invites me out goes unspoken, but they both hear it and breathe softly through the phone for a beat.
"Sure. Right, yeah. Well whenever you're free, let me know," Santana rushes.
"Okay." Quinn hesitates, not really wanting to say what she does next. "I- I called you the other day, and texted, and you never…"
"Oh, I couldn't find my phone."
"But you found it now?" Quinn squeezes her eyes shut as a particularly harsh glint of sun from a car window slashes across her face.
"Um," Santana wavers. "Yeah."
"Yeah," Santana repeats again, almost whispering. "Brittany was over."
Quinn can't listen to this. She wishes she could shut off her ears as well; squeeze them shut like her eyes and render herself completely cut off from the outside world. But that would leave her with her thoughts, and. Well.
"Please don't," she breathes.
Santana lets it drop. "Stop by next time you're free. Desi really misses you. I think he has a bit of a crush on you…"
"Cute," Quinn replies, a smile making its way across her face. "Tell him next time I'm over, I'll bring cookies. One of my mom's church friends brought some by and neither of us is really allowed to eat junk food, so. Might as well give them to someone who can enjoy them."
Santana starts to say something but cuts herself off and tries again. "I'll let him know."
It's only long after Quinn hangs up and is about to knock on Mike's front door that she realizes what Santana had started to say – enjoy them yourself. She can't explain the tears in her eyes when Mike opens the door.
He doesn't ask but gives her a cautious hug anyway.
By lunch time, the temperature has already beaten last year's record high – Santana takes to lying on the kitchen floor with the fridge open to try and find some relief. Her mother's passed through to yell at her three times already, reminding her how much money she's wasting with the fridge door open like that, but there's no way in Hell anyone can survive this heat with a broken air-conditioner.
She almost regrets not taking Desi up on his offer to join him at his friend's place.
(Almost because her makeup may already have dripped onto the kitchen tiles, but it's still better lying in a pool of her own sweat than having to deal with prepubescent boners barely hidden by swim trunks.)
"Honestly, Santana; if you refuse to get off that floor I'll force you to mop it while you're down there," Mrs. Lopez says with a scowl, emptying her dustpan into the trash.
Santana scraps together the last of her energy to return her mother's scowl. "I'm dying," she says flatly.
"Doesn't Brittany have a hot tub?"
They used to spend all summer in it; sipping mocktails and feeling each other up under the water. (Santana's cheeks still heat up when she thinks about the first time they discovered the jets.)
It's not a good idea. She'd be better off digging a hole in the backyard and sticking the hose in it, like she once tried to do as a child, because a mud bath won't taunt her in a skimpy bikini. But she can't explain this to her mother and she's pretty sure there's a permanent indent from the tiles in her back so she fishes her phone out of her shorts pocket and dials.
Brittany's dad answers the door. Santana actually reels back a little – so used to the girls racing each other to greet whoever stands on the front porch. He senses her surprise and gives her that Pierce grin, stepping aside so she can come in to the air-conditioned heaven.
"Tracy took Ash to the mall," he explains as she breathes in the cool air.
"I thought Ash hated shopping." Santana pauses in removing her shoes and glances up in slight confusion at the man whose blue eyes are lit up like a Christmas tree.
"She did," he says, "Until we stopped taking her to the girly half of the store."
Santana frowns, now thoroughly mystified.
"My baby girl's getting her first pair of boxers," he says proudly, leaning back against the wall. "It's a big day."
It hits her the same sudden way it usually does – the longing for her dad to be like this man. She used to pretend that she and Brittany shared a dad, back when they were little enough to get kissed goodnight, and would always echo Brittany's Goodnight Daddy after he pressed his lips to their foreheads and tucked them in.
"That's great," she finally says, smiling.
He nods and his expression shifts into something more serious. "I know it's not the Lima ideal, but you have to love your kids for exactly who they are or else they'll resent you for who you are. If my little girl wants to wear boy clothes, I'll pay for the shopping trip. If one day she decides she's happier as Ashton, I'll pay for the operation." He shrugs. "As a parent, all you can do is listen to what they need and do your best to provide."
Santana's eyes sting and she has to look down, at her bare feet on the stone tiles, so she doesn't burst into tears right here in the foyer.
Mr. Pierce touches her arm. "You know I consider you my honorary daughter, right? I love you exactly as you are as well."
He pulls her into a tight hug and she lets herself relax in his arms, realizing how much she missed this whole family while they were away. She feels at home. Her hair is still plastered to her forehead from the walk over, but not one bit of her feels that tugging anxiety she gets whenever she's around her own father. She can breathe.
"Britt's out back with Kurt," he says as he releases her. "They made some sort of fancy popsicles earlier so you'd better get out there before they eat them all."
She thanks him quietly and weaves her way through the house that knows her so well, unable to shake the raw emotion from her face before stepping outside. Oh well. Kurt will have to deal with her looking like a human for one afternoon.
As it goes, Kurt's already distraught from what the humidity's done to his hair and barely notices when Santana strips down to her red bikini and joins them in the hot tub. Brittany licks her lips, but Santana tries to pretend it's because of the lime green popsicle in her hand.
"It's mocha kiwi," Brittany informs her, and Kurt smiles like a proud father. "Kurt's recipe."
He nods and sends the floating cooler over to Santana's half of the hot tub. "I've been trying out new chilled treats for the summer months. As the weather hasn't exactly been cooperating, I thought I'd take this opportunity to expand my repertoire. But just between you and me, I'd rather go back to making dessert cakes than have to deal with… this." He motions to his slightly voluminous hair.
Brittany smiles at the both of them. "You should try a popsicle, Santana," she says as she pokes the cooler. "They're really good."
Santana can't bite back the grin on her face as she selects a dark purple popsicle from the tray and Brittany gives her a little dance of encouragement.
"Ah," Kurt says fondly. "Blueberry cheesecake."
She's about to question what the fuck he put in these iced treats when she tastes it and oh sweet Jesus, it's definitely blueberry cheesecake. "You angel," she blurts out through a mouthful of heaven.
"Appropriate, coming from the devil herself. I wasn't going to comment on your choice of red swimwear, but-" Kurt stops short as Brittany frowns at him.
Santana rolls her eyes. "I was talking to the popsicle."
"Of course you were," he replies.
"I think Santana looks really good in red," Brittany cuts in, and licks her lips again – this time Santana knows it's not because of the popsicle.
Her cheeks burn up and she sticks her own blueberry cheesecake delight in her mouth to try and cool down.
Kurt glances between the two of them. "Okay, whatever's going on here? I'd rather not be caught in the middle but seeing as I am, I request that nothing happens while my designer swim trunks must share the tub with you girls."
Santana stares at the cooler in the center of the hot tub and tries to work out if he means what she thinks he means. She's sure he does – he's not as oblivious as his tree trunk of a step-brother, but she's still trying to hold onto that last bit of hope that Brittany's wandering eyes are only noticeable to the one whose body can feel their path burned into the skin.
She narrows her eyes at him nonetheless and he reels back slightly.
"Nothing's going on here," she tries, keeping her face in a neutral stony expression.
"My bad," he says quietly. "But I still request that this nothing doesn't take place while I'm in this hot basin of an STI breeding ground, because as much as I love both you girls, and I do, I don't want my first time to carry the scars of a non-sexually transmitted infection."
"Oh hold up. Are you calling me dirty?"
Kurt shrinks down in the water. "Not you… Puck, maybe. The boy eats food off the floor. There's no telling what he might do after dark."
"And you don't think I might've maybe thought about this at some point in my life, Kurt? My dad's a doctor. If there was something not right with my lady bits, Kurt, I can guarantee you it'd be taken care of the second it happened. So please – shut your girly mouth before I ram the rest of your freaky little angel desserts down your throat. And the next time you want to make assumptions about someone's sex life, don't."
"I- I'm sorry," he manages to get out, face caught between fear and disbelief. "I truly wasn't trying to say anything with that, I just – Brittany said it was a hot tub, and all I could think about was that video Miss Pillsbury made us watch at the end of the year assembly, and I…"
"It's okay," Brittany says, patting him on the arm.
Santana scrunches up her nose.
"I know you're not dirty," he finishes earnestly. "I'm just a little paranoid when it comes to stuff like this. My dad had a talk with me-"
"Oh honey; say no more." Santana waves the last of her popsicle and shakes her head.
Allowing himself to rise up from the water, no longer smothered in fear, Kurt gives Santana a searching look. "You know, he could talk to you, if you-"
"I'd really rather not hear about the birds and the bees from your old man. You know, I'm pretty sure I know more than there is in those little pamphlets they have at the pharmacy. Plus, my information wasn't published in seventy-three." Santana finishes with a sarcastic smile.
Brittany reaches for another popsicle – pink this time – and glances over at Kurt.
"I didn't mean that sort of talk," he says quietly.
Santana suddenly catches on to what's happening and stiffens in her seat, eyebrows twisting into a scowl. "I'm sorry. What kind of talk did you have in mind, lady fingers?"
He and Brittany exchange a quick look before he turns back to Santana, addressing her with the patience of a schoolteacher. She could punch his delicate little face.
"Britt thought that it might help you, talking to my dad; seeing as he's already had to deal with something like this before. No one else has to know, but sometimes it's easier to talk to someone who's not really involved with it." He starts to reach out to her but thinks better of it and lets his hand fall underwater.
Santana turns to Brittany; stomach churning with betrayal. "You told him? What part of I can't have anyone knowing didn't you get, B? What if this got back to my family? My dad?"
"I'm sorry," Brittany starts. "I didn't-"
"She didn't tell me," Kurt cuts in. This time he does reach out to Santana and she has no choice but to let him take her hand. "I've known since I was on the Cheerios. Before that, even. But we weren't really friends, nor did I have a personal investment in your wellbeing, so I left it alone and hoped you'd find your way."
"So what changed?" she asks, immediately cursing her voice for letting the uncertainty slip through.
He looks to Brittany. "Someone I care about very much told me you needed guidance. I'm not one to meddle in someone else's life – unless it involves makeovers – but I want you girls to be happy, and clearly… well." He shrugs. "I'm sorry if you feel attacked; that wasn't my intention." His face softens and he drops his voice. "It's just us here, Santana. You can let the walls down; be yourself. You don't need to worry about anyone judging you or breaking your trust. It's okay."
She blames the lump in her throat on the heavy chlorine in the hot tub, but nods at Kurt with glassy eyes and gives his hand a tiny squeeze.
"I didn't know who else to turn to," Brittany says in a quiet voice. "I just want you to be proud of who you are, San. Because you're the most awesome girl I've ever known."
Santana swallows back the threat of tears and scoots a little closer to Brittany, leaning into her side.
"Thanks," she murmurs. "Ah- both of you. I mean, Kurt, I'll kill you if you tell a soul, but I guess… I appreciate this. No one- no one ever really takes the time to-"
"You don't have to do this," Kurt says with a tiny smile.
She breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank God."
"I'll leave you my dad's number, before I go," Kurt tells her. "And you don't have to use it, ever, but just know that he's willing to talk to you whenever you need it. Even if you just want to talk cars. But I'm warning you – once you get him started, there's no stopping."
Santana smirks and laughs slightly, not doubting this. "Good thing I know my way around a car then."
Kurt sighs. "Of course you do."
Brittany gives Kurt a silent thank-you before tangling her fingers with Santana's and then gets herself another popsicle.
"Cherry truffle," she says to Santana, offering her the first lick.
It's Brittany's way of apologizing and telling her it'll be okay all at once and Santana gives her a quick nod to let her know she's got it before trying out this new flavor.
"Tongue orgasms," she says with a groan, resting her cheek against Brittany's. "Kurt, I don't know how you do it."
He waves his hand with a dramatic flair. "Magic."
Brittany whispers, "Google."
Santana doesn't get home until long after the sun goes down, taking with it the heavy heat. They'd moved inside to de-prune their fingers and make some more of those popsicles, because you truly can't have enough of something that orgasmic, and soon after they'd set them in the freezer, Brittany's little sister returned, wanting to show them her new clothes.
The entire fashion show, in which Ash strutted around the kitchen in her new baggy jeans and Chucks, Santana let her fingers remain tangled with Brittany's, not even flinching when Mrs. Pierce smiled at them. It felt… good. It was starting to feel natural.
She even took Brittany in her arms when Kurt brought out the hair products, to show Ash how to get that messy-yet-controlled 'do.
The whole thing felt surreal. Walking home, she keeps the taste on her tongue, rolling it over in her mouth to commit to memory every angle. Sticking her key in the lock, she gives herself a moment to remember exactly how it felt to dance with Brittany in the kitchen while Kurt helped Mrs. Pierce make dinner.
She's still smiling when she kicks off her shoes.
The smile slips off her face when she sees her father sitting in the living room, in his armchair, staring at her with his bone-chilling eyes. He says nothing; just watches her as she makes her way down the hall and into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water. She feels his gaze on her back as she walks upstairs and can only shake it off when she's locked in her bedroom, sitting in the mouth of her closet.
It's late. He's not even supposed to be home on a Monday night, let alone awake and sitting in the dimly-lit room like a statue on a throne.
She paces her breathing and shuts her eyes to try and shake the panic from her chest.
This is her father. He's not supposed to make her feel this way. But that's just it – this is her father; the man who cut all ties with his own brother after he left the church. She fears him more than she fears God; not because her father will send her to Hell, but because he could make her life worse than any eternal damnation (and probably will when he finds out).
It takes her nearly half an hour to calm down. Once her hands stop shaking, she takes her phone out of her bag, where it sat all day, to send Brittany a goodnight text.
1 New Voicemail greets her.
It's from Quinn. The panic returns and her heart speeds up, but she dials her voicemail nonetheless because even if she just spent the day learning what her life could be like if she disappears from her father's life, this is still reality and in it Quinn is the only person who could possibly understand what she'd be giving up.
Quinn's voice is soft and breathless on the recording. "I was walking home from Mike's and thinking about- well, everything… And I was thinking about glee club, and how many times we had to sit through people serenading each other, and."
There's a pause, in which Quinn catches her breath and lets it all out in a whisper.
"And I realized no one's ever sung to you. And I realized how much you deserve a song. So. Well. Here you go."
Santana sits motionless in her closet, eyes spilling over with tears, as Quinn's cautious, smoke-like voice fills the air.
"Bad day, looking for a way, home; looking for the great escape.
Gets in his car and drives away – far from all the things that we are.
"Puts on a smile and breathes it in and breathes it out; he says bye-bye – bye to all of the noise.
Oh he says bye-bye – bye to all of the noise.
"Hey child, things are looking down. That's okay; you don't need to win anyways.
Don't be afraid, just eat up all the grey – and it will fade all away.
Don't let yourself fall down…"
Quinn ends the song with a rushed, "Don't think too much about this, okay?" And suddenly Santana's left plunged into the darkness of her small closet, cheeks stained with tears; wondering how the hell she's supposed to breathe when her heart's just squeezed itself through her ribs to settle nicely in her open palms.
She tries not to think too much about it when she hits save on her phone and tells herself it means nothing when she replays the message three more times before finally crawling into bed, cradling her heart between her hands so it doesn't get lost in the endless sea of cotton sheets.
She tries so hard to just let it be, but as she drifts off, her left hand burns with Brittany's touch and her right hand trembles with the echo of Quinn's.