Not quite five-year-old Rachel Berry looked all around herself, her eyes wide and bright with interest at her new and rather engaging surroundings. Holding each of her father's hands, pressing back into their legs, she peeked around the doorway into the kindergarten classroom, taking in the brightly colored posters and hanging planet mobiles, the long white dry-erase board, and the activity centers neatly arranged around the room, wanting to walk up to, inspect, and touch almost everything she saw.
There was an area with art supplies and easels, a kitchen area with tables, chairs, and a sink and refrigerator, a table filled with sand, shovels, and pails, a corner with pillows, blankets, and books, a "play house" area with what looked like costumes and dress up clothes, a corner filled with blocks, puppets, and toy ponies…Rachel wanted to play with everything she saw. It all looked so inviting and sparked her imagination with possible scenarios even at a glance. She was certain that whatever it was they would do in school, it would be even more fun than she had anticipated.
"Doesn't this look exciting, princess?" Rachel's first daddy asked her, bending down towards her to smile directly into her eyes, and her second daddy squeezed her hand, beaming down fondly at her as well.
"You're going to have such a good time, sweetheart, you're going to be our shining little star, just like always. Just look at all the new friends you'll make here!"
As an only child, this was a very exciting possibility for Rachel indeed. She turned her head, observing all the other children who had arrived as well so far, and her smile grew wide with renewed hope at her prospects. There was a solemn little Asian boy, standing in front of his mother holding her hand as he too peered around the room much in the same manner that Rachel was, cautiously eyeing the other children. There was a small little boy wearing funny clothes, oddly formal clothes, also holding his mother's hand, with an upturned nose and bright blue eyes. This little boy seemed particularly anxious, turning a tearful face into his mother's pant leg repeatedly as he whispered urgently to her, seeming to be asking her to be able to stay. Another rather tall little boy with tousled brown hair and a slightly chunky frame was already lumbering around the classroom, barely glancing back at his own tearful mother in the doorway as he headed straight for the blocks. A dark-skinned little girl with her hair in two pigtails and several colorful plastic necklaces and bracelets was sticking her lip out, hands on her hips as she eyed the other children skeptically, and a little boy with most of his dark hair buzzed off was already racing over to join the brunette boy at the blocks, scrambling for the ones he preferred and shoving at the other boy to get them.
Rachel was sure that one of these children, or maybe even all of them, would be her very best new friends. But as interested as she was in all of them, there was one child in particular who commanded her attention- and that of almost every other child in the room, as soon as they heard her arrive in the doorway, just behind Rachel and her fathers.
"I DON'T WANNA STAY HERE! I don't wanna go to school! I don't like kindergarten! Kindergarten is stupid, I wanna go home, QUIERO IR A CASA MAMI! ESTA ES UNA ESTUPIDEZ!"
Automatically Rachel turned to look behind herself for the source of the yelling voice, seeing that it belonged to another little girl. The other child was a Latina, small and slim, though not quite as much so as Rachel herself, with long, wavy hair and dimples in her cheeks. Rachel thought she was very pretty, and normally would have immediately informed the other little girl of this, but it was doubtful in that moment that the other child would have even heard her say so. The little girl was clearly angry and upset, and currently she was grabbing at her mother's arm, digging her feet into the ground near her mother's and clinging as she attempted with her slight weight to drag her mother back out the doorway with her own meager strength. For her part, her mother, a rather attractive Latina with lighter hair and skin than her daughter, remained calm as she addressed her.
"You know that you cannot come home, Santana. You know your mami has work today and cannot stay with you, and you know what your abuela would say if I took you home to her when you are not sick. We have talked of this, mija, you know you are a big girl now and must attend school," she was telling her, but the little girl- Santana, her mother had called her- seemed to be having none of it.
"I don't care! I wanna go home! Take me home, mami, take me home!" she hollered, pulling at her mother's arms and tilting her head back until the tips of her long hair brushed the small of her back. "Home!"
"Santana, look at everything there is for you to play with here, it looks like fun," her mother was telling her as she continued to calmly attempt to pry herself from the girl's grasp, shaking her head at her. "There are other children, you will enjoy playing with them. It is their first day too, mija, I am sure they are also scared or nervous to be here-"
"I'M NOT SCARED! I DON'T WANNA PLAY WITH THEM, THEY'RE STUPID, EVERYTHING IS STUPID AND I HATE IT!" Santana shrieked, now wrapping her arms hard around her mother's waist and burying her face in her side, as though she expected that she could anchor her mother from moving further. "It's better at home! Don't wanna play with these ugly stupid toys and these stupid ugly-face kids, I wanna go home!"
Rachel looked up somewhat anxiously then at her fathers, her eyes round with shock at the other child's words and actions. She could not remember ever screaming at her anyone in her whole entire life, let alone in front of a whole room of people and other kids. She certainly had never told her fathers no in such a mean way, and she had never yelled at anyone that they were ugly or stupid. This other little girl was making her very, very nervous, and she clung to their hands, pressing closer against them, even as she continued to stare at her, also somewhat fascinated.
For Santana's mother, however, this seemed to be a fairly typical occurrence, or at least one that didn't distress her. "Santana Mariana Lopez, you are being very rude," she scolded her, even a she continued to pry her daughter off her. "I know you do not want to go to school, mija, and I am sorry, but you do not have a say in this. You will be all right, Santana, I promise you, you will have fun. I am leaving now, but I love you, carina, and I will be thinking of you. Be good, mi Corazon."
As her mother succeeded in prying her off of her at last, Rachel watched, still grimly fascinated, and was startled as the little girl's dark scowl dissolved, and Santana abruptly burst into tears. Now howling in an entirely different manner and tone, she grabbed for her mother's arm again, tears streaming down her face as she pulled at her.
"Mami, nooo, don't leave, I don't wanna be here! Don't leave, I wanna go too!"
"Santana, I promise you'll be all right," her mother told her again; the teacher, whom Rachel remembered as having earlier introduced herself as Mrs. Turner, was coming over to them then, addressing Santana as well, but Santana ignored her, still crying as she continued to plead with her mother.
"I won't! I hate you, mami!"
Rachel's mouth dropped open, and she looked back with horror at her fathers, unable to even imagine saying such a thing to them, before she looked back with some anxiety at Santana, expecting her to have something horrible done to her for saying such a mean, awful thing. But Santana's mother still seemed unbothered; in fact, she was still smiling.
"I am sorry to hear that, mija, but I still love you."
She leaned down, giving Santana a hug and a kiss, before prying her grasping hands off her one more time and backing out the door. As Rachel's own fathers reluctantly kissed her goodbye, following after her, she watched with continued astonishment as Santana, howling, threw herself to the floor, kicking and screaming and crying so loudly that Rachel began to think very seriously and with real concern what damage she was doing to her vocal chords. She would surely never be able to sing like Rachel could if she kept crying and yelling in that way, and Rachel, concerned over this, began to inch towards her, intending to inform her of this.
But Santana saw her approach, and whether or not she knew what it was that Rachel had in mind, she wasn't about to let her get any closer to try it. Now directing her screams at her, she kicked out one foot towards Rachel, as though to scare her back from her.
"STOP LOOKING AT ME, YOU SHORT MONKEY GIRL!"
Rachel stopped, then backed a step away, blinking several times and trying unsuccessfully to conceal her hurt. She wasn't sure why Santana would call her that- she knew she was short, but she didn't look or smell like a monkey. Did she?
She considered apologizing, though she wasn't sure why she would be, and leaving Santana alone, but in the end her natural curiosity won over her hesitation, and she informed the girl, "That wasn't nice to call me that. I am not a monkey…your name is Santana? I'm Rachel Berry. Why are you still yelling, Santana, your mom has left and she can't hear you anymore."
"Yes you are, you're an ugly monkey girl! I hate her, she left me and I hate her! I hate it here, I hate school, I hate my mami and I hate YOU!" Santana continued to scream, banging her fists into the ground and thrashing around, small legs kicking out, as her chest heaved with loud sobs.
Rachel hurriedly backed away from range of her limbs, still eyeing her with unflagging interest, some fear, and growing sympathy as well. Even though the other girl was being so mean to her and saying such terrible things about her mother, she was so obviously upset, maybe even scared, that Rachel found herself unable to be too upset about it. She watched as the teacher came over to Santana and bent over her, talking, as she hauled her to her feet and into a chair in the corner, where she gave her further instructions as Santana continued to cry and intermittently yell out loudly. As the teacher continued to talk to Santana, stopping to shoot Rachel a reassuring smile and to instruct the other children trickling in to go so down at the small tables and color for a few minutes, Rachel obeyed, but continued to glance back frequently at the still-bawling Santana in her isolated corner, especially after the teacher rejoined the other children and left Santana sitting alone.
It didn't seem right to Rachel, to leave her sitting by herself when she was crying, even if she was being so mean. Maybe Santana didn't know her mom was going to come back for her after school. Maybe she thought she was being punished for being bad. If Rachel thought her daddies had left her forever, she would probably cry and be scared too, even if she would never say ugly words to people like that and try to kick them.
Rachel decided then, as she was coloring, that she would give the picture to Santana and write her a note on the back too. She was proud of her ability to read and write, having taught herself already, and so she flipped the coloring page that had been set out on the table for her over and as carefully as she could manage, began to write Santana a note.
"Your mom will come back. It will be ok. I am not mad and I hope you do not hate me now," she printed, then wrote her name and drew a small star beside it. Pleased with her work, Rachel waited until she was given permission to go to her cubby. Hers was placed beside Santana's, she noted, and she slipped Santana's inside.
But when Santana was released from the corner later in that day and shown her cubby by their teacher, Rachel watched her take out the picture and flip over the back, squinting at the words written there. When Santana frowned, then shrugged, balling the paper up and tossing it away, Rachel's heart sank. It took her the rest of the day to realize, when Santana did not acknowledge her in any sort of way afterward, that just because Rachel knew how to read, didn't mean that Santana did. She had probably not understand a single word that Rachel had spent so much time writing out.
She wanted to tell her what the paper had said aloud, but in the end, Rachel remained quiet, making no further approaches. She did, however, note that at the end of the school day, it was not Santana's mother who came for her, but a stern-faced older woman. From within the circle of her fathers' arms, she noted that the lady coming for Santana did not pick her up and hug her, or even reach for her hand; she simply inclined her chin for Santana to follow her, but not without first giving a level glare in the direction of Rachel and her fathers as her eyes shifted between the two men. With a snapped command at Santana to hurry, she hustled the other child out the door, leaving Rachel, still in between her fathers, watching, wondering.